What you need to know about the Young Thug trial
Jury selection is underway for the massive Atlanta gang trial targeting Grammy award-winning Atlanta rapper Jeffery Williams known as Young Thug — and 13 others.
- The Fulton County District Attorney has zeroed in on an alleged gang named YSL or "Young Slime Life," but Williams maintains YSL is only a music label.
Why it matters: In her announcement of a 65-count indictment last May, District Attorney Fani Willis told reporters that gangs are responsible for an estimated 75-80% of all violent crime in Atlanta.
Driving the news: The charges range from murder and theft to aggravated assault and possession of illegal drugs. Prosecutors listed more than 370 possible witnesses, including hip-hop artist Lil Wayne. (A shooting of his tour bus in 2015 allegedly involved Wiliams and YSL.)
Be smart: Lawyers and the judge have estimated the massive trial could take six to twelve months. Jury selection could take weeks.
Catch up quick: Another high-profile defendant, Sergio Kitchens, also known as Gunna, pled guilty to one charge last month and was released. But in a statement reported by Fox 5, the rapper said the plea was “in my best interest” and maintains his innocence.
- He defended YSL as "a group of people from metro Atlanta who had common interests and artistic aspirations…I love and cherish my association with YSL music, and always will."
The intrigue: The trial has spurred a debate over the use of music lyrics as evidence against artists and whether it violates first amendment rights. The DA's indictment cites some of Young Thug's music, including the 2018 song "Anybody" where he wrote: "I never killed anybody but I got something to do with that body, I got the streets on my back…I told them to shoot a hundred rounds." The citation was not listed as connected to an incident.
- Young Thug last summer urged supporters to sign a petition to "Protect Black Art," challenging prosecutors' use of rap lyrics against artists in criminal prosecutions.
What they're saying: "This isn't just about me or YSL. I always use my music as a form of artistic expression and now I see that Black artists, rappers don't have that freedom," he said in a recorded call from jail.
The other side: Willis said last year she believes the lyrics are fair game. “I have some legal advice. Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used,” she told reporters.
Of note: Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) last year introduced a bill to prohibit prosecutors from using lyrics against artists.
Between the lines: Willis' prosecution is centered on the state's racketeering or "RICO" law targeting a "pattern of racketeering activity," something she used successfully to prosecute educators in the 2015 Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
- It's also a law many speculate she could also use to prosecute former president Trump and his allies.
Go deeper: 11 Alive’s documentary “Jeffrey” dives into the trial and Williams’ career.
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