Young Thug trial: Opening statements begin, rapper accused of cofounding criminal street gang YSL

After nearly 10 months of jury selection, one of the country's highest-profile trials is finally set to begin this week in Atlanta

ByChristina Maxouris, CNN, CNNWire
Monday, November 27, 2023
Opening statements begin in Young Thug's racketeering trial
Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug's trial is underway, who is charged in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act - known as RICO.

ATLANTA -- The prosecution began opening statements Monday morning in the racketeering trial of Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug, who is accused of leading a violent street gang in the Atlanta area affiliated with the national Bloods gang.

Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, was charged alongside more than two dozen other people under the state's expansive Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act - known as RICO. It's the same law Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis used to indict former President Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants in August in connection with their alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug is accused of being a co-founder of YSL, a criminal street gang responsible for violent acts dating back a decade.

Several defendants took plea deals last December - including the rapper Gunna and Young Thug's older brother - while others were severed from the case for a number of reasons, including representation issues.

Young Thug is among six defendants who have pleaded not guilty to all charges and are standing trial in an Atlanta courtroom, the judge said Monday.

Defense attorney Brian Steel has said Young Thug is innocent of all counts and has previously told CNN he "committed no crime whatsoever."

RELATED: 'Protect Black art': How the indictment of Young Thug, Gunna sparked a movement

The trial was called to order Monday morning but quickly went into recess after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville announced one juror could not be located. The court proceeded again roughly 40 minutes later after the juror was found.

The trial will be a test of the state's expansive RICO law, prosecutors' highly controversial decision to use rap lyrics as evidence and of Willis' reputation ahead of Trump's coming trial.

The rapper was initially charged and arrested in May 2022 for conspiring to violate the RICO statute and participating in criminal street gang activity. Prosecutors say Young Thug is the cofounder of a criminal street gang - Young Slime Life - that's responsible for violent acts dating back a decade.

Among the more serious accusations against him is that in 2015 he rented a car that was used in the murder of a rival gang member days later, according to prosecutors.

ALSO SEE: Young Thug rap lyrics used as alleged evidence in YSL gang indictment

In a reindictment filed in August 2022, prosecutors charged the artist with additional counts related to gang activity as well as drug and firearms violations. The additional charges stemmed from a search warrant executed by authorities at the home the rapper was staying in, where drugs and firearms were allegedly found, Steel told CNN affiliate WXIA.

The 32-year-old rapper is one of the music industry's most innovative and influential hip-hop artists, pushing not just musical boundaries but often cultural ones too - including in his decision to wear a big purple dress for the cover of his 2016 album, "Jeffery."

His tracks have landed him at the top of the charts multiple times, and he's collaborated with artists including Camila Cabello in "Havana," Travis Scott and Drake. He won the Grammy for "Song of the Year" in 2019 for co-writing the hit track "This is America" along with Childish Gambino and Ludwig Gransson.

RELATED: Judge rules rap lyrics can 'conditionally' be used as evidence in Young Thug trial

Jury selection lasted nearly 10 months and featured an alleged in-court drug transaction and an attorney's arrest at the courthouse.

Marquavius Huey, Deamonte Kendrick (known as Yak Gotti), Quamarvious Nichols, Rodalius Ryan and Shannon Stillwell are the other five defendants in the trial.

The trial is expected to last months and could feature a star-studded list of witnesses, including rappers Lil Wayne and Killer Mike.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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