Young Thug is taking it to trial. Finally.
After 10 months – the longest period of jury selection in Georgia judicial history – nine women and three men will decide whether Atlanta rapper Jeffery “Young Thug” Williams is guilty or not guilty of orchestrating the drive-by murder of Donovan “Peanut” Thomas in 2015.
Williams stands accused of crimes of racketeering under Georgia’s RICO statute, the same law that has ensnared former president Donald Trump. Prosecutors allege that Williams led Atlanta’s YSL street gang and allegedly rented the car used in a hit against a rival gang leader in a dispute over musical collaboration and street politics that escalated into a full-blown gang war that left dozens of people wounded or dead.
Twenty-eight people were initially indicted in the case, including the rapper Sergio “Gunna” Kitchens. Only seven remain in the case. Several defendants, like Gunna and Young Thug’s brother Quantavious “Unfoonk” Grier, took a plea deal in return for lengthy probation sentences. Judge Ural Glanville separated others from the trial because of conflicts with their legal representation, courtroom misconduct or in the case of Jimmy Winfrey – the rapper known as Pee Wee Roscoe – because he was a fugitive of the court. Winfrey was arrested in Las Vegas in July.
Young Thug has been held in Cobb County’s jail since his arrest in May 2022. Williams, wearing a sage green sweater and forest green tie, occasionally scowled as Glanville read charges to the jury for his co-defendants, otherwise smiling when talking with his attorney or others in court.
Other defendants have been held on Rice Street, Fulton County’s increasingly-notorious county jail. Ten people have died in the sheriff’s custody since the start of 2023. YSL gang defendants have been involved in fights and stabbings – both on the giving and receiving end – over the course of their incarceration, sheriff’s records show. Tenquarious Mender allegedly led a four-man attack on other inmates in a neighboring section of the jail in May, while an inmate stabbed Derontae Bebee with a prison-made shank in July, records show.
Seven defendants are left in the trial, including Williams, Bebee, Marquavius Huey, Deamonte “Yak Gotti” Kendrick, Quamarvious Nichols, Rodalius Ryan and Shannon Stillwell. The trial is scheduled to begin on November 27, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Jury selection has been vexed by the proposed three-to-six month length of the trial and the hardships that serving on a panel for only $25 a day creates. Nearly 2,000 people – or about one out of every 475 adults living in Fulton County – were pulled into the prospective jury pool.
Prosecutors from District Attorney Fani Willis’ office and defense attorneys have painstakingly heard a litany of reasons people would be unduly burdened by serving on the trial. Their stories of economic precariousness have been a tour of the civic character of Atlanta, which struggles with deep inequality even as rappers like Young Thug write verses about Bentleys, Aston Martins, ‘Raris and Teslas.
“I’m happy that we were able to find jurors who were able to be compensated or were able to serve as a juror,” said Angela D’Williams, an attorney representing Ryan.
Rare is the prospective juror who would be marginally willing to serve, unbiased enough to be fair and capable of walking away from whatever else they’re doing for months without their lives being destroyed. The process may be instructive when considering what jury selection will look like in the election interference cases unfolding in Fulton County. “Our case might serve as a learning tool,” D’Williams said. “Maybe when it comes to that case, it will go smoother, because we haven’t had anything of that caliber here before.”
Steel and other defense attorneys fought Wednesday to keep a flight attendant in the pool. The flight attendant received notice to be in court while away and could not make it back to Atlanta today.
And it had to be today.
Glanville made it plain that the court was out of time. Fulton County’s court had been operating under special pandemic provisions that set aside the requirements of a speedy trial. Those rules expired in July. Under the court’s current speedy trial rules, a jury must be selected within two judicial terms of the start of the trial, or the indictment is voided and the district attorney’s office would have to start over from square one. The current judicial term expires Monday.
Glanville instructed jurors how to get into and out of the courtroom without interacting with the public and sternly directed them to avoid posting anything on social media or talking to others about the case – anything that would create grounds for a mistrial in what is becoming the longest-running criminal case in the state’s history. If they screw up, he will find out, Glanville said
“You’re going to tell on yourselves, or somebody is going to tell on you,” he said. “We’ve taken a long time – 10 months – to assemble a jury that is fair, just and lawful. Be mindful of the admonitions of this court.”
The court still has issues to resolve before opening statements: Attorneys will argue to exclude the testimony of some police investigators, some evidence from a 2015 search of a music studio may or may not be excluded and the question of how lyrics might be used in this trial has not been completely settled.
And on Tuesday, the court will hear a motion filed by members of the media who have been denied entry to the courtroom. Court staff have regularly admitted only reporters from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to sit in the courtroom, relegating other reporters – including those from Rolling Stone – to a media observation room. The exclusions began in April, shortly after reporters witnessed a dramatic courtroom event in which Ryan was led out of court screaming, to be strip searched in the courthouse back rooms where sheriff’s deputies found marijuana sewn in his underwear.
No explanation has been given for the change in media policy. Reporters from Fox 5 Atlanta, Atlanta’s 11Alive NBC affiliate, and independent journalists like Sylvia Tumusiime who have been prevented entry nonetheless have a signed judicial order that permits their presence in court.