ATLANTA — A judge in Fulton County on Thursday denied bond to rapper Young Thug, accused in a sweeping RICO indictment of being the leader of the Young Slime Life street gang.
An expected trial date, the judge said in court, would be January 9, 2023.
Young Thug, they said, is "the top dog, the most dangerous man here, because he doesn't have to get his hands dirty, he has others to do his business."
They said they had "statements from YSL gang members that he 'is dangerous, they are afraid of him, that if they cross him he will kill them and their family,'" and that "he is the one they're all afraid of, he's the one that's King Slime, he's pulling the shots."
Young Thug's attorneys presented several witnesses on Thursday to testify to counter this image of the rapper - pointing to his involvement in and support for the community, as well as a private investigator who testified about the logistics of potential home confinement and its feasibility.
One witness, Cleveland Avenue community organizer Jamil Mitchell, said, "without him the neighborhood would be terrible - you gotta think about all the people he helped motivate... to me and I know to a lot of other people, he's a motivator to us."
Kevin Liles, a music executive and founder of the agency that distributes the music from Young Thug's YSL label, testified he was "like a son" and was willing to put his own wealth and business behind a bond.
Liles painted Young Thug as a community pillar who has impacted people around the world with his music. The rapper, he said, "is not just an artist - he's an influencer, a person I think was put here to change the people around him" and a "contributing citizen to this world."
Young Thug's lawyers also presented testimony to make the argument that the rapper and those who support him can afford the costs that would be incurred with a pre-trial house arrest.
Prosecutors called those arguments an "attempt to say I can buy a bond."
"It's all about the money. It was, I've got money, I can pay for whatever you want me to," they said.
Before the judge was to rule on bond, the rapper could be seen praying in the holding cell at Cobb County Jail, where he is incarcerated.
The indictment charges both Young Thug and another rapper, Gunna, with gang-related crimes, and includes more than 25 others who have allegedly participated in YSL gang activity.
The New York Times previously reported that the lawyer for Young Thug, whose legal name is Jeffery Williams, said that YSL was not a street gang and claimed that the indictment was "baseless to include him."
“Mr. Williams came from an incredible horrible upbringing, and he has conducted himself throughout his life in a way that is just to marvel at,” Attorney Brian Steel said.
The rapper is charged with "participation in criminal street gang activity" as an "organizer, supervisor, or other position of management or leadership" of several violent crimes, among them murder.
One section of the indictment says two other gang members accused of attempting to murder rapper YFN Lucci discussed "how to get permission from... Young Thug ... to kill Rayshawn Bennett (YFN Lucci) and what the payment would be to do so." It also states he was part of a call with an individual who was in Fulton County Jail, and in the call the man "stated he needed something." Young Thug allegedly "pointed to (another gang member) to take care of it and flashed a YSL gang sign."
One of the key charges is involves a 2015 murder in which he allegedly rented a car used in the killing of Donovan Thomas, Jr., described as a "rival gang member." At a press conference, Fulton DA Willis said that murder "created violence like Atlanta has never seen" and she framed it as a central event that led to the indictment this year.
The case is also marked by First Amendment issues. Willis is using several of Young Thug's rap lyrics against him as evidence.
11Alive legal expert Page Pate said they're frequently used in RICO cases in Georgia, but that he thinks in this case it could be "problematic" for the prosecution.
"This is a very aggressive move by Fulton County prosecutors... I think here they may have gone a step too far, because they're charging these individuals with criminal activity - crimes under Georgia law - which really may be limited to things they've said either on social media or in song lyrics," he said. "And ultimately I think that's gonna be a problem - the jury is going to want to see evidence that these individuals, each one of these individuals, actually committed some sort of crime separate from just being part of this organization."