A source with knowledge of the case tells Rolling Stone that rapper Gunna, born Sergio Kitchens, will not be called to testify against any defendants in the indictment against Atlanta-based YSL. Kitchens was released from Fulton County jail Wednesday on an Alford plea agreement and was sentenced to five years, with four suspended and the initial year commuted to time served.
“It’s understood that the state is not going to call him as a witness,” the source, who wished to remain anonymous due to the ongoing nature of the YSL case, explains. “That’s why the plea agreement is written exactly the way it is because the whole idea was: the state wasn’t going to call him, and they didn’t want the defense to call him either. If you look at what was said in court, that stops the defense from calling him, but also indicates that he’s never going to testify for the state.” The source contends that the aim of the plea is “to neutralize him and keep him out of the game.“
The statement Kitchens shared following his release clarified that he has not “made any statements, have NOT been interviewed, have NOT cooperated, have NOT agreed to testify or be a witness for or against any party in the case and have absolutely NO intention of being involved in the trial process in any way.” And the source backs Gunna’s assertion that he won’t be testifying on behalf of Fulton County prosecutors or other defendants in the case, noting that the plea agreement allows him to invoke the fifth amendment if that understanding was somehow broken.
On Wednesday, court footage of Gunna’s Alford Plea hearing was leaked on Twitter. Gunna affirmed that he “had personal knowledge of members of YSL committing crimes in furtherance of a gang” and agreed that “YSL as a gang must end.” He also admitted being present with Young Thug during a 2017 traffic stop where cops found drugs and a handgun in the car. His statement sparked outrage from onlookers who speculated that Gunna was cooperating against YSL defendants or that those statements would negatively impact other defendants in the YSL indictment, including Thug, real name Jeffery Williams.
As part of his Alford plea, Kitchens’ statements apply solely to his case and cannot be used in subsequent cases. On Wednesday, Kitchens’ lawyer Steven Sadow posted to Instagram that “Gunna did not snitch to get out of jail. He has said nothing and is not cooperating. His plea statement in court cannot be used against any other defendant.” Other legal professionals who spoke with Rolling Stone echoed this point.
“It’s not a co-conspirator statement, it’s a statement against his own interest only related to his case,” says Massachusetts-based attorney Brad Bailey. “[His statement] cannot be used to establish the existence of a gang or a criminal enterprise.” Lawyer Bruce Rivers, known for his Criminal Lawyer Reacts YouTube channel, notes that if the prosecution tried to introduce Gunna’s plea statement without his testimony, the decision “would be a violation of Crawford v Washington,” which regulates the use of out-of-court statements. “When you have a statement intended for interrogation by law enforcement, it’s generally not admissible if the witness isn’t there to testify.” Essentially, with the state agreeing that they don’t intend to call Gunna to court, they’re conceding that they won’t introduce his plea statement as evidence.
LA-based attorney Neama Rahmani says that Gunna’s comments in the plea hearing amount to the “barebones admission” needed to “satisfy the elements of the crime.”
“It’s not just a conspiracy, it’s a RICO conspiracy,” he says. “The corrupt organization is the CO of RICO, so Gunna’s gotta admit that some organization exists [to get the Alford plea]. If there’s no criminal enterprise or organization, there is no RICO conspiracy. It’s really basic stuff that has to be admitted. Otherwise, the judge will say, ‘you haven’t satisfied the elements of the crime, prosecutor.”
Alford pleas are legally permissible in all U.S. federal and state courts, besides the state courts of Indiana, Michigan, and New Jersey, as well as courts of the United States Armed Forces. But Bailey says that certain states are more “solicitous” about offering them because there’s a propensity for defendants to sign Alford pleas and then file an appeal that contradicts their plea.
Gunna’s release punctuates a rocky year for the rapper, which started with his album DS4EVER topping the Billboard 200, and ended with him evading a potentially lengthy prison stint. Gunna’s lawyers filed multiple bail motions after his arrest, contending that the state’s August re-indictment removed him from implication in violent crimes. When the charges were first revealed, activists decried the implementation of lyrics and music videos into the indictment, as well as circumstantial evidence such as YSL chains, shirts, and tattoos.
Jury selection for the trial will begin on January 5th, and the trial for the other YSL defendants, including Young Thug, begins on January 9th.