OPINION: YSL trial: Disorder in the court

Rico case against YSL gang continues

Rico case against YSL gang continues

I visited the Fulton County courthouse this week to check on the Young Thug gang racketeering case.

Simply put, it’s disorder in the court.

Before Christmas, I sat in on hearings ahead of the blockbuster trial mixing rap and gang warfare. From the start, the logistical and security issues of trying 20-some defendants, some prone to violence, has been touchy.

Proceedings got off to a rough start in December with IT woes at the court. When things finally got underway, several naked men appeared on the large court monitor accompanied by the words “Free Young Thug.” Someone was punking the court. It looked as if the top of Judge Ural Glanville’s head might explode.

I returned this week, nearly four months after jury selection started Jan. 4 to find the judge still testy and proceedings grinding at a snail’s pace. In fact, the unwieldy case looks to be imploding under its own weight.

Then on Thursday, defense lawyer Anastasios Manettas, was handcuffed after a security search of his bag found prescription medication. He says it’s his own medication but security has been on high alert after authorities caught at least a couple of defendants with drugs. One was found with weed on him Thursday and screamed as deputies searched him.

It’s no wonder the case is plodding (at best) along. There are 13 defendants and even more attorneys. The number of defendants has shrunk because several have pleaded guilty and others still don’t have lawyers. Glanville severed the case of the defendant Manettas is defending after Thursday’s incident.

The trial has gained international attention because Jeffery Williams, AKA Young Thug, is accused of orchestrating a murderous gang, even though he’s a mega-rich recording artist. Prosecutors allege he just couldn’t let go of the street lifestyle that he learned growing up on Atlanta’s southeast side and has kicked off a gang war.

The case grew infamous not only because of the celebrity aspect but because prosecutors aim to use rap lyrics as part of their case to convict alleged gang members.

Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Ural Glanville looks out over the courtroom as the Jury selection portion of the trial continues on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023.  Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

icon to expand image

Credit: Miguel Martinez

I dropped in this week after reading an update by AJC colleagues Shaddi Abusaid and Jozsef Papp, whose lot in life is to sit on hard benches day after day absorbing The Forever Trial.

Their story says, “More than three months after jury selection began, not a single juror has been seated ... at least three jurors have been scolded by the judge for various infractions ... several of the 14 defendants have been involved in incidents ranging from scuffles to an alleged drug transaction.” This was before the latest alleged drug incidents.

Some appointed lawyers are complaining of their fast-food worker wages — $15,000 for the trial, no matter how long it takes. Two attorneys are pregnant and have refused to have their clients’ cases severed from the case.

Also, the judge ordered a defense lawyer who irritated him by taking a bathroom break without approval to write a 17-page paper on “the importance of professionalism.”

Veteran attorney David Wolfe, who is not part of this trial, has never seen anything like this case. “How does anyone convicted not have good issues on appeal with the cumulative effect of all these events?” he asked.

Monday was eaten up with a bond hearing for attorney Manettas’ client, Miles Farley, the alleged creator of the clothing brand Make America Slime Again, a play on the gang’s name — Young Slime Life, or YSL. Farley is also charged with murder.

The testimony of Christopher Mercure, an Atlanta cop with full-sleeve tattoos on his muscled arms and who has spent almost all of his 13 years on the force patrolling the streets after midnight, gave a glimpse of the cat-and-mouse game played by police and suspected gang members.

Mercure testified he spoke with Young Thug and his friend Christopher McMiller outside a gas station in February 2022. “It’s very unusual to see a Lamborghini on Cleveland Avenue at one in the morning,” Mercure said.

Young Thug’s luxury ride sped off and Mercure, being nosy by profession, followed, watching it drive to a small home not far away. He called it a YSL hangout and kept an eye on the place.

A month later, that house got shot up, although no one was hurt. Police arrived and handcuffed those on the scene as they sorted out the situation. Farley, who is seeking bond, was one of them.

According to his bodycam, Officer Mercure told Farley, “I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. I actually knew him. He was a very cool guy.”

Atlanta police are investigating a deadly shooting Friday morning on the Downtown Connector. Investigators are focusing their efforts on a white sedan riddled with bullets.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

icon to expand image

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Mercure was referring to Young Thug’s bud McMiller, who had been killed in a drive-by shooting on the Downtown Connector just days before the house shooting.

“I saw him a week before he was killed,” the cop testified. “It was like, ‘Man, another one.’ "

After the hearing, I spoke with lawyer Jay Abt, who represents Deamonte Kendrick, AKA the rapper Yak Gotti.

Abt said he respects Judge Glanville but criticized his ruling that has kept all the defendants together. Abt believes breaking the cases into bite-sized chunks of maybe four or five defendants each would make justice roll quicker.

He noted it took much of Monday to question one witness, with only a couple of lawyers cross-examining. Wait until all the lawyers cross examine the scores and scores of witnesses coming forward.

This case might take until May of 2024, he predicted.

I also predict there might be a court-ordered term paper in Abt’s future.