With lines from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, Fulton County District Attorney Adriane Love made opening arguments Monday in the racketeering and gang trial of Young Thug, whose legal name is Jeffery Williams, and other accused members of YSL Monday, 18 months after his arrest.
“YSL operated as a pack,” she said, citing the law of the jungle from Kipling’s book. The words “are appropriate for where we are today. For 10 years and counting, the group calling itself Young Slime Life dominated the Cleveland Avenue community of Fulton County. They created a crater … that sucked in the youth, innocence and even the lives of some of its youngest members.”
Love argued that Williams was an original member of the ROC Crew, a gang precursor to the Young Slime Life gang. “Defendant Jeffery Williams was its proclaimed leader,” she said. “YSL, as the evidence will show, didn’t move individually. The members and associates of YSL moved like a pack, with defendant Jeffery Williams as its head.”
Love’s opening statements, which noted that Williams’ attorney Brian Steel represents defendant Rodalius Ryan on a murder appeal, drew an immediate call for a mistrial and led to Judge Ural Glanville to explain the legal issue to the jury. In previous hearings, Glanville had ruled that his involvement in other cases could not be presented to the jury under these conditions. “It was an inadvertent omission to leave Mr. Steel’s name” on the slide, Love said.
The trial began after a one-hour delay while Fulton County sheriff’s deputies shepherded a juror with car trouble to court. “Leave early. You can always come a little bit early,” Judge Ural Glanville said to jurors. The Young Thug trial set the Georgia record for jury selection time. Trial lawyers sifted through more than 2,000 potential jurors, starting in January. The jury is composed of nine women and three men. Nine jurors are Black.
Plea deals and courtroom conflicts over the course of 10 months has whittled down the number of defendants from 28 to six: Marquavius Huey, Deamonte “Yak Gotti” Kendrick, Quamarvious Nichols, Rodalius Ryan, Shannon Stillwell and Williams. Sergio Kitchens – the rapper Gunna – pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in December, stating in court that the YSL music group and label is also a criminal street gang.
Williams is charged with violating Georgia’s racketeering act, gang charges, two drug possession charges, possession of a firearm in commission of a felony and possession of a machine gun. Other defendants are charged with armed robbery, hijacking, aggravated assaults, possessing jail contraband and murder.
Prosecutors argue that the murder of Donovan Thomas, a prominent gang member of the Inglewood Family Bloods, precipitated a street war that resulted in more than 50 shootings over a period of months and years, leading to three deaths that are part of this indictment and others that have been prosecuted separated. “Donovan Thomas … gunned down, openly and notoriously,” Love said. “Because the evidence will show that part of the reasons criminal street gangs operate the way they do is to establish dominance.”
Prosecutors’ witness list is about 400 names long and includes police officers, teachers, and “members and associates of YSL,” according to the prosecutor’s presentation. Hearings leading up to opening statements have been contentious, as lawyers sparred over the use of lyrics in the case, the qualifications of witnesses and the late delivery of evidence by prosecutors to the defense team. “How those members or associates will behave on the stand is truthfully something I can’t predict,” Love said.
Kevin Liles, Chairman and CEO of 300 Entertainment and a formative figure in Young Thug’s career, appeared at the courthouse this morning, arguing against the use of lyrics in the case. “If it were any other kind of music,” Liles said. “Listen to the one’s that won at the Country Music Awards, and the songs they sing and the words they write. We wouldn’t be here.”