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What's going on with Young Thug's trial? We explain

Emily Bloch, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — There’s enough twists and turns happening at Young Thug’s ongoing Atlanta trial to fuel an entire album’s worth of diss tracks.

The rapper and Grammy winner was charged two years ago with drug, gang, gun, and racketeering crimes. The case has dragged on with no end in sight and a bunch of roadblocks along the way.

The latest unfolded Monday, when Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Ural Glanville ordered the rapper’s own lawyer, Brian Steel, to spend the next 10 weekends in jail after finding him in contempt (ironically, this has only helped Steel’s street cred among the general public).

There’s a lot going on and we know it can be tricky to keep up with all the action. Here’s everything you need to know about Young Thug’s trial.

Cast of characters

Young Thug

Young Thug is an award-winning rapper based out of Atlanta. His legal name is Jeffery Williams. He came onto the hip-hop scene in 2010 and is considered significant for his contributions to the mumble rap subgenre. In 2013, he signed to the label of fellow Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane’s. In 2016 he founded his own label, Young Stoner Life.

He won a Grammy in 2019 for his contributions to Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” Other notable songs the artist sings or collaborated on include “Stoner,” “Throw Sum Mo,” “Havana” (with Camila Cabello), and “Pushin P” (with Gunna and Future). In 2021, he performed at Philadelphia’s Made In America festival.

Judge Ural Glanville

Ural Glanville is chief judge for the Superior Court of Fulton County and is presiding at Young Thug’s current case.

Attorney Brian Steel

Brian Steel is a longtime criminal defense attorney who practices in the Atlanta area. He has represented a mix of musicians, elected officials, professional athletes, and more, according to his personal biography.

Steel is also part of a legal power couple of sorts. He runs the Steel Law Firm with his wife, Colette Resnik Steel. As things have unfolded, Colette Resnik Steel has become more publicly involved with the trial, representing her husband after he was found in contempt of court (more on that later).

Fani Willis

Fani Willis is the district attorney overseeing Young Thug’s case. She’s a Democrat best known for investigating former President Donald Trump’s alleged involvement with election fraud in Georgia. She has spoken against gang violence in the Atlanta area and her commitment to eradicating it.

Kenneth Copeland

Kenneth Copeland (the rapper, not the 87-year-old televangelist), also known as Lil Woody, is considered a witness. He’s a known gang member and served time in federal prison in 2018.

He was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony, but refused to testify last week. He was arrested on Friday and held in jail for being in contempt of court. He is widely believed to have informed police of crimes Young Thug allegedly committed.

Other rappers

Besides Young Thug and Lil Woody, other rappers including Gunna, Lil Duke, Yak Gotti, and Unfoonk (Young Thug’s brother) were also charged in the indictment.

General lay of the land

Why is Young Thug on trial?

Young Thug was indicted by a Fulton County grand jury in May 2022. He was charged with violating Georgia’s anti-racketeering and gang laws, among other offenses.

The indictment said Young Thug was the founder of a street gang called Young Slime Life, or YSL. The indictment claimed that nearly 30 other associates are members of the gang, which formed in 2012, and that the group has ties with the national Bloods gang, carrying out crimes including murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, witness intimidation, and drug dealing.

Investigators say Young Thug’s record label, Young Stoner Life — also called YSL Records — is a nod to the gang and his “Slime Family,” a.k.a. artists on the label who are also gang members. The crux of the case involves proving if the artist’s many references to “YSL” are referring to his lifestyle, art, and luxury brands or to crime and gang activity. The case is expected to have implications on the music scene, with prosecutors’ investigation heavily citing Young Thug’s lyrics. Young Thug has pleaded not guilty.

 

What has happened so far in the trial?

So very much.

Georgia statutes let prosecutors group together crimes, even ones that seem unrelated, if they argue that they support a shared objective. In a case as complex as Young Thug’s, with such a large cast of characters and allegations, that means analyzing an intricate web of events spanning many years and hundreds of witnesses.

Since the trial started in November, several things have happened:

—Brian Steel said the rapper was “mobbing for God and that “thug” stands for “Truly humble under God” (November).

—A defense attorney working on a related case, representing the rapper Stunna, was arrested on separate gang-related charges of her own (February).

—An investigator for the prosecution was accused of sexually harassing a witness (April).

—Brian Steel contends that Copeland a.k.a. Lil Woody admitted in a private meeting with his attorney and Judge Glanville to killing Donovan “Nut” Thomas, whom Young Thug is accused of murdering (Monday).

—Steel refuses to disclose how he heard about the alleged meeting, which he says Young Thug’s legal team wasn’t informed of, and is placed in contempt of court and arrested (Tuesday)

So why exactly was Young Thug’s lawyer arrested?

On Tuesday, Steel raised concerns to Glanville about a meeting between the judge, Lil Woody, and the prosecution that the defense wasn’t notified of. Steel said this meeting was inappropriate and that his team had a constitutional right to know what happened behind closed doors.

But Glanville appeared to be more concerned with who was leaking the information to Steel. Steel refused to tell the judge who told him about the meeting, citing his ethical responsibility to his client.

Glanville held Steel in contempt of court for refusing to divulge his sources and sentenced Steel to 20 days in jail over the the next 10 weekends. Steel requested he serve his weekends with his client at the Cobb County Jail so they could work on their case, which Glanville approved.

What now?

Brian Steel is appealing his arrest

Steel is appealing Glanville’s order of contempt and seeking bond.

Lawyers defend Brian Steel

Attorneys Ashleigh Merchant and Alex Susor are representing Steel. Merchant said about 25 attorneys went to the courthouse after hearing about Steel’s arrest.

“Your desire for him to answer your question does not mean that you have the power to hold him in contempt,” Merchant told Glanville.

Could everything happening prolong the case even more?

In short, yes. There’s no end in sight.

Jury selection took 10 months. As noted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the trial has been marked by repeated delays, juror problems, and time off. Monday marked the 88th day of trial, but fewer than 80 witnesses from the prosecution’s list of over 200 have testified.

The trial is already expected to continue into the next year. Appeals — and related cases like Steel’s — could drag things out even longer.


©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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