Young Thug Remains In Custody as RICO Trial Gets Underway

Young Thug RICO trial
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Photo Credit: Frank Schwichtenberg / CC by 4.0

Is Young Thug out of jail yet? After nine months of jury selection, Young Thug’s high profile RICO trial begins this week in Atlanta — with the rapper remaining in custody since mid-2022.

Still in custody and after almost 10 months of jury selection, Young Thug’s YSL-affiliated RICO trial began this week in Atlanta. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis alleges that the Grammy-winning rapper is the co-founder of criminal street gang YSL, which prosecutors say is connected to the artist’s label, Young Stoner Life Records, and stands for Young Slime Life — an Atlanta-based street gang with affiliations to the national Bloods gang.

Young Thug was charged, alongside over two dozen other individuals, including fellow rappers Gunna and Yak Gotti, under the expansive Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

The indictment naming the rapper has brought national attention to the Atlanta-based trial, where opening statements began on Monday, November 27. But the case has also drawn criticism due to prosecutors’ use of rap lyrics as evidence, widely considered a violation of artistic expression and freedom of speech.

Many defendants took plea deals last year, including Gunna and Young Thug’s older brother. Six defendants, including Young Thug — whose legal name is Jeffery Williams — are still facing trial, and have remained in custody since their arrest.

Defense attorneys for Young Thug have denied the accusations and focused on the rapper’s personal life and his positive influence on those around him. As a longtime friend of the rapper testified, Young Thug was “put here to change the people around him.”

In one testimony, a 15-year-old boy said Young Thug tutored him, took him along on tour, and urged him to stay away from crime and drugs. “I told him, my YSL means Young Successful Life, because that’s something that he has created.”

The 32-year-old Young Thug released his 2016 album, “Jeffery,” the same year he founded his YSL record label. Since then, the label has propelled the rapper’s close friends and family to industry stardom. As an artist, Young Thug has collaborated with the likes of Camila Cabello, Drake, and Travis Scott.

Brian Steel, an attorney for Young Thug, asserts that his client has “committed no crime whatsoever,” and is “wrongly charged on every single count.”

“The court is hearing the prosecutors say that Mr. Williams is in charge of a criminal street gang and by his word, people can die,” Steel told CNN. “And that’s just not true.”

“He’s trying to get others out of poverty,” Steel said, describing his client as an “amazing person” who comes from poverty and lack of opportunity, and wants to create opportunity for others. “That’s his mission in life.”

Prosecutors listed over 180 acts in the indictment that the group of defendants allegedly committed, including murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, carjacking, drug sales, possession of firearms during the commission of a felony, and theft, dating back to 2012. Among their evidence, they cite social media posts, hand signs, clothing, song lyrics, and tattoos.

Initially, Young Thug was indicted for conspiring to violate the RICO statute and participating in criminal street gang activity.

But in a reindictment filed in August 2022, prosecutors charged him with additional counts related to gang activity, drugs, and firearms violations. Those additional charges stem from a search warrant that resulted in drugs and firearms recovered at the home the rapper was staying in, Steel says.

Young Thug is charged with eight out of the 65 total counts listed for all defendants. Among the more severe accusations against him is the rental of a car in 2015 that was used in the murder of a rival gang member.

Other defendants still facing trial include Yak Gotti (real name Deamonte Kendrick), Marquavius Huey, Quamarvious Nichols, Rodalius Ryan, and Shannon Stillwell. Gunna, as one of the defendants who entered a plea deal last year, was sentenced to five years in prison with one year commuted to time served, and the remaining four years suspended.