Young Thug was denied bond yet again Thursday during a heated hearing in his RICO case where his lawyer suggested the Grammy-winning rapper is the subject of a law enforcement vendetta dating back to a 2015 drive-by shooting of Lil Wayne’s tour bus.
Lead defense lawyer Brian Steel invoked the bullet-riddled bus after he told Fulton County Judge Ural Glanville that Young Thug, born Jeffery Williams, is a “role model” who should be “applauded” – not incarcerated — for overcoming extreme poverty and adversity to become a world-renowned artist.
As he argued for his client to be released on stringent house arrest, he said video and other discovery evidence turned over by prosecutors fails to support the bombshell indictment that landed Williams behind bars last May and was expanded with additional charges last week.
According to prosecutors, Williams and his 27 co-defendants — including the Grammy-nominated rapper Gunna — are members of criminal crew called Young Slime Life, a Bloods-affiliated street gang that Williams allegedly founded in 2012 and ran alongside his YSL Records label, also known as Young Stoner Life Records. Prosecutors say the alleged gang carried out racketeering activities ranging from robbery and drug dealing to murder.
Williams, 31, and Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, have pleaded not guilty and vehemently deny the allegations, including that Williams had a role in the Jan. 10, 2015 murder of alleged rival gang member Donovan Thomas Jr. Prosecutors say Williams purportedly rented the silver Infiniti Q50 sedan linked to the crime.
At the Thursday hearing, Steel told the court that video related to Williams’ May 9 arrest at his home in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta doesn’t support the new charge claiming he possessed an automatic weapon that day. He also said discovery handed over by prosecutors failed to prove Williams was the individual who allegedly stated in a Jan. 25, 2015, group chat that “sacrifices must be made, soldiers must fall in order for the battle to be won.”
Touching on the Lil Wayne bus shooting, Steel suggested it’s no coincidence that Don Geary, the veteran prosecutor now helming the sprawling RICO case for the Fulton County District Attorney, was working for neighboring Cobb County back in 2015 when he prosecuted YSL affiliated rapper Jimmy “PeeWee Roscoe” Winfrey for spraying Lil Wayne’s bus with bullets after an altercation at a nightclub.
Williams was named as an alleged co-conspirator in Winfrey’s bus shooting indictment, but he was never charged, according to Atlanta’s WSB-TV. Winfrey eventually pleaded guilty to six gang counts in the case and was sentenced to a decade in prison, but his conviction was later overturned when an appellate panel found that the judge who took his plea “crossed the line” by threatening a “harsher sentence” if Winfrey went to trial and lost.
Steel didn’t identify Lil Wayne, born Dwayne Carter Jr., by name Thursday, but it was clear he was referring to the bus attack when he alleged Geary had a score to settle.
“Mr. Williams has been targeted for about seven years by law enforcement,” Steel said, claiming that his client is only “in this case” because of what happened with Winfrey, his RICO co-defendant.
“Mr. Geary is the one who prosecuted Mr. Winfrey in Cobb County. Mr. Williams was not indicted for that case, but he’s indicted now,” Steel told the court.
The bus shooting was indeed revived in the 88-page RICO indictment returned last May. It was listed as one of the “overt acts” allegedly carried out in furtherance of the alleged racketeering conspiracy.
Geary took offense to the allegation law enforcement has “targeted” Williams and defended the underlying indictment, saying one of the reasons his office sought to re-indict Williams with the new charges added last week was because Williams is a “dangerous” individual. He highlighted the recovered machine gun as alleged proof.
“Mr. Williams is not a convicted felon. He can have weapons. But he can’t have an automatic weapon,” Geary said. “This is a dangerous person…YSL is a dangerous gang, and this is the man who leads that gang, and he’s dangerous.”
Steel didn’t back down. “The surveillance around the house (shows) a person exit the house – not Mr. Williams – with that gun. That’s not Mr. Williams. So to sit here and say it’s Mr. Williams’ gun is wrong,” the lawyer said, referring to video of the May 9 arrest.
Regarding the 2015 group chat and the “sacrifices must be made” comment referenced in the indictment, Steel said adamant that was someone else.
“Mr. Geary is wrong when says that Mr. Williams is on some sort of chat group talking about soldiers and ‘sacrifices must be made.’ I have it in discovery now,” Steel told the court. “I can show it to you now. Mr. Williams is not on that chat. I heard Mr. Geary say he may not be right. I’m telling you he’s not.”
Steel pleaded with Judge Glanville to release his client to house arrest. Williams, who appeared at the six-hour hearing via a video link form his Cobb County jail, held his palms together like he was praying as Steel spoke.
“He should be in a house without any internet, without any electronic media, without any access to anyone except his lawyers,” Steel said, proposing a secret location somewhere out in the Georgia countryside where “no one knows where he is” and he’s guarded by professional law enforcement around the clock on his own dime. “Jeffery Williams, your honor, he is the most polite. He’s a genius. And he understands that we’re fighting for his life. He would not risk anything on bond.”
Judge Glanville left the bench for about 30 minutes to consider the motion and arguments. He denied it without much elaboration up on his return, saying he’s “still not convinced” Williams is a candidate for pre-trial release.
Steel said he would be filing a subsequent motion to have his client’s rap lyrics ruled inadmissible at the RICO trial now set for early next year. He called it “discriminating” that prosecutors quoted lyrics from several of Williams’ songs in the indictment, including his track “Anybody” featuring Nicki Minaj.
Williams’ other defense lawyer, Keith Adams, argued Thursday that Williams didn’t even write many of the lyrics listed in the complaint.
Geary said that didn’t matter. “The law is, if you sing the song, that’s an adoptive admission, you don’t have to write them,” the prosecutor said.
Adams also challenged what prosecutors claim was said on a recorded jail call between Williams and his sister. The defense lawyer called it a “material misrepresentation” for prosecutors to allege Williams said he experienced symptoms of drug withdrawal after he was arrested.
“He did not indicate that he was addicted to drugs and needed to detox. In fact, what he indicated is that he was going through withdrawal from being separated from his significant other,” Adams said, telling Judge Glanville that the defense obtained its own copy of the call directly from the jail.
Geary said he stood by the prosecution’s interpretation of the call.
Before the judge’s decision, Steel asked the court to consider his client’s amazing rise to fame and success against stunning odds.
“I’ve had the benefit in my life of knowing Mr. Williams almost a decade. I saw his rise to international prominence in his field of choice. I also had the shock of going into the neighborhood where he was raised,” Steel told the court. “He has been shot, he has been hungry — but his family held it together as best they could. He grew up in a place in America [where] nobody should grow up like that. And he’s being ridiculed now because he talks about that life and what he’s seen. People who do hip-hop and rap are bringing [this] to the attention of people who have no idea what it’s like to be in the inner-city, growing up. He is educating us. He should be applauded, which he is, applauded by most.”
Kitchens, 29, also appeared at the hearing Thursday but was not the subject of any motions argued by his defense lawyers Kristen Novay, Steve Sadow, Don Samuel and John Garland. After Judge Glanville shot down Kitchens’ bond motion in Fulton County, the lawyers moved the fight to neighboring Henry County where Kitchens is being housed. After a judge denied them there as well, they appealed to Georgia state supreme court. The lawyers argue it’s not sufficient to hold their client in custody based solely on Geary’s unsworn allegations, especially after they challenged his statements to the court and demanded “traditional evidence.”