YSL trial now down to eight defendants after conflict with attorney

Attorney alleged to have allowed his client to use Instagram on his laptop
Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022.   (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Another defendant in the Young Slime Life trial has had his case severed due to a conflict of interest with his attorney.

Judge Ural Glanville severed the case of Christian Eppinger, who is represented by attorney Eric Johnson, during a hearing Thursday. There are now only eight defendants set to stand trial, including Atlanta rapper Young Thug.

Glanville said there is a conflict between Johnson and Eppinger, relating to a recent arrest of a Fulton County deputy last week.

“There is an individual who has been arrested for violation of oath by public officer who has been alleged to have had a some type of relationship with Mr. Eppinger,” Glanville said.

Deputy Akeiba Stanley was arrested Friday and is accused of communicating with Eppinger. Warrants allege Stanley talked with Eppinger both inside and outside of court, and that she knew he had a contraband cellphone in the jail.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the 31-year-old deputy “fostered an inappropriate relationship” with Eppinger by visiting his cell and allegedly conspiring with one of his relatives to deliver prohibited items.

Stanley was charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal, reckless conduct and violating her oath of office. She was granted a $1 million bond during a hearing on Saturday.

The arrest took place just two days after a laptop belonging to Johnson was seized in the middle of court proceedings by a group of Fulton County deputies. According to warrants, Eppinger was using Johnson’s computer during court proceedings to message with Stanley on Instagram.

The seizure of the laptop resulted in Glanville issuing a signed order instructing law enforcement not to search Johnson’s seized laptop and to return it to him immediately. In the restraining order, Glanville said Johnson should keep possession of his computer pending Thursday’s hearing.

The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a supporting brief Friday morning demanding that Johnson’s laptop be returned and that any information or evidence obtained during the search be suppressed.

Christian Eppinger, a defendant in YSL/Young Thug trial appears in court for jury selection at Fulton County Courthouse on Jan. 4, 2023. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

icon to expand image

Credit: TNS

As a result of potential conflict, the Georgia Prosecuting Attorney’s Council appointed attorneys from the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office to represent the state in a hearing regarding the seizure of Johnson’s computer.

Deputy Chief District Attorney Brandon Delfunt said a new search warrant issued Thursday morning to search and seize Johnson’s computer has a lot of additional information that was not in the first warrant, including allegations that Johnson is a co-conspirator.

“The state is alleging in this warrant that Mr. Johnson is a co-conspirator in the offense of providing prohibited items to inmates because there is probable cause and a superior court judge has found probable cause,” Delfunt said.

According to the new search warrant, Johnson was aware that Eppinger was using Instagram on his computer. The warrant alleges Johnson violated the law by providing Eppinger, an inmate, with a telecommunication device. His knowledge about what Eppinger was doing makes him “a party to Mr. Eppinger’s violation” of the law, it alleges.

Defendants are allowed to use their attorneys’ computers and tablets during the jury selection process, and some have been wearing headphones during court proceedings. The devices can only be used to review electronic discovery and not for defendants to communicate with others inside or outside the courtroom.

According to the warrant, deputies have observed numerous defendants, including Eppinger, using their attorneys’ laptops as telecommunication devices. The warrant describes multiple instances in which deputies approached Eppinger and Johnson after noticing the defendant using Instagram on Johnson’s computer.

On Thursday, Glanville ordered Johnson to turn in his computer to him by 9 a.m. Friday in his chambers. Glanville will then hand the computer to the sheriff’s office to satisfy the new warrant issued Thursday but the sheriff’s office will have to hand the computer right back and won’t be able to search it until a hearing is held on the matter.

A special master will be appointed to take possession of the computer until the hearing is held. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for June 21 to allow Johnson to seek counsel and review the warrant.

Eppinger faces 15 counts in the sprawling gang case and is accused of shooting an Atlanta police officer six times during his 2022 arrest. Since then, he’s been linked to a jailhouse stabbing and he picked up two more felony charges for allegedly threatening sheriff’s office staff.