ATLANTA - After 10 long months of jury selection, opening statements finally began Monday in Atlanta in the trial of Young Thug. The rapper is accused of co-founding a violent criminal street gang and using his music to promote it.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I think we are ready for the lawyers to begin opening statements," Fulton County Chief Judge Ural Glanville said Monday afternoon.
The Atlanta-based artist, whose given name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, is charged with violating Georgia’s anti-racketeering and gang laws, among other things. He was indicted last year along with more than two dozen other people, five of whom are set to stand trial with him.
Day one of the trial proved to be just as tedious as everything leading up to it. One juror was late to court, pushing the session back nearly an hour and a half.
At one point, Young Thug's lawyer asked the judge for a mistrial because of multiple "inaccurate" slides on the prosecutor's PowerPoint. He also says the defense wasn't given the opportunity to review the material before Monday.
"How did we just violate court orders? So yes, I have a serious motion for a mistrial because it’s intentional misconduct," said Young Thug's attorney, Brian Steel.
Glanville admonished the district attorney's office for the oversight, but denied the motion for a mistrial, saying opening statements aren't considered evidence.
Fulton County Chief Deputy District Attorney Adriane Love told jurors that YSL is tied to the national Bloods gang. She alleges that Williams, along with five other defendants, participated in violent gang activity.
"The members of YSL moved like a pack," Love stated. "With the defendant, Jeffery Willams, as its head."
Love described to jurors some of the things she believes gang members are behind on the streets of Atlanta.
"They committed crimes such as armed robbery, hijacking, motor vehicle theft, theft by receiving, stolen firearms, possession of a machine gun, and narcotic sales and last but certainly not least, murder," said Love.
The trial is projected to last months and will likely include testimony from a number of high-profile music industry figures. Prosecutors are expected to take the controversial step of using Young Thug’s rap lyrics as evidence against him.
Who is Young Thug?
Young Thug’s eccentric style and mumble rap — along with breakout hits such as "Stoner" and "Best Friend" — have made him popular. His squeaky high-pitched vocals can be heard in the background of Childish Gambino’s "This is America," a social-political hit that became the first hip-hop track to win the song of the year Grammy Award.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MARCH 25: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been processed using digital filters.) Rapper Young Thug attends the game between Golden State Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on March 25, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by P (Getty Images)
Young Thug won a Grammy in 2019 for his co-writing efforts on the track, which included 21 Savage, Quavo, BlocBoy JB, Slim Jxmmi of the duo Rae Sremmurd. He has had several mixtapes and three studio albums including his recent "Business is Business" music project, which was released in June.
Young Thug has collaborated with some of music’s best including Drake, Chris Brown, T.I. and Travis Scott. Elton John called working with Young Thug an "amazing moment" after recording the song "Always Love You" featuring Nicki Minaj and Gunna.
Young Thug has three chart-topping songs including "Havana" with Camila Cabello, "Way 2 Sexy" with Drake and Future and "Franchise" featuring Travis Scott and M.I.A.
He signed with Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records in 2013.
In a hyper-masculine hip-hop scene, Young Thug refused to play by traditional gender rules. He wore a dress on the cover of his 2016 mixtape "Jeffery" and said there’s no such thing as gender as part of a Calvin Klein campaign.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 01: Young Thug performs during 2021 Lollapalooza at Grant Park on August 01, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage,)
On social media, some noticed Young Thug referencing his male friends as "bae," "lover" and "hubby."
Young Thug grew up in a rough suburban Atlanta housing project where crime was the norm. He became a father at the age of 17 and currently has six children.
Prosecutors have painted Young Thug as a gang leader known as King Slime, someone who calls the shots and directs others to engage in criminal activity.
What are the charges young Thug faces?
A Fulton County grand jury indicted Young Thug in May 2022, and more charges were added in a subsequent indictment in August of that year. The second indictment accuses Young Thug and 27 other people of conspiring to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. The rapper is also accused of participation in criminal street gang activity, as well as drug and gun charges.
Prosecutors say Young Thug and two other people co-founded a violent criminal street gang in 2012 called Young Slime Life, or YSL, which they say is associated with the national Bloods gang. The indictment says Young Thug "made YSL a well-known name by referring to it in his songs and on social media."
In addition to specific charges, the August indictment includes a wide-ranging list of 191 acts that prosecutors say were committed between 2013 and 2022 as part of the alleged conspiracy to further the gang’s interests.
Included in that list is an allegation that Young Thug threatened in July 2015 to shoot a security guard who was trying to get him to leave an Atlanta-area mall. The indictment also says Young Thug rented a silver Infiniti sedan that was used in the killing of a rival gang member. And, on numerous occasions, he and others are alleged to have possessed various illegal drugs that they intended to distribute.
Rapper Young Thug in court on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.
What do Young Thug's defense lawyers say?
Young Thug’s lawyers have said in multiple court filings that he is innocent of all crimes charged in the indictment. They argue YSL is simply a record label. The rapper has pleaded not guilty.
Multiple defense attorneys in the case have said prosecutors were overzealous in their use of the RICO statute and the anti-gang law, both of which carry heavy penalties.
Who else is charged in the Young Thug YSL RICO trial?
Rapper Gunna, whose given name is Sergio Kitchens, was charged with a single count of racketeering conspiracy. He entered an Alford plea in December, which means he maintains his innocence but recognizes that it’s in his best interest to plead guilty.
During Gunna’s plea hearing, the rapper responded, "Yes, ma’am" when a prosecutor said that "YSL is a music label and a gang" and that he had knowledge that its members or associates had committed crimes in furtherance of the gang.
The other two people accused of co-founding the YSL gang — Walter Murphy and Trontavious Stephens — were also charged. They each pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-racketeering law.
What has Young Thug been doing since his arrest?
Young Thug has been in jail since his arrest on May 9, 2022, having been denied bond several times since then.
More than a year after he was jailed, Young Thug surprisingly released his third studio album "Business is Business," which was executive produced by Metro Boomin. The album — which featured Drake, Future and Lil Uzi Vert — debuted No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Young Thug’s album dropped a week after Gunna released his new project.
What penalties does Young Thug face if he's convicted?
Young Thug’s racketeering conspiracy charge and two gang charges each carry a penalty of five to 20 years in prison. The other five charges also carry potential prison time.
What's next in Young Thug's case?
Jury selection began in January. At that time, 14 of the 28 people charged in the indictment were set to be tried together. That number has dwindled to six after some defendants either took plea deals or were separated to be tried later.
It took nearly 10 months to seat a jury, which is highly unusual. It took so long for a variety of reasons. For one, the trial is expected to last for months, meaning many potential jurors had legitimate hardship excuses that allowed them to get out of hearing the case. There were also many complications that caused delays, including challenges in getting defendants housed in different jails to court each day, contraband brought to court, and the arrests of a defense attorney and a courtroom deputy.
A jury of 12 people — nine women and three men — and six alternates was finally selected on Nov. 1. Opening statements are set to begin Monday and the trial is expected to last anywhere from several months to a year.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.