Judge Ural Glanville has denied a motion by Young Thug’s lawyers not to admit more than a dozen pieces of rap lyrics as evidence in the YSL RICO gang trial set to start this month.
However, the judge said the lyrics are admitted for a limited purpose and “conditionally admitted subject to a foundation that is properly laid” by the prosecution.
The trial is set to begin on November 27, but it’s full steam ahead as the defense and prosecution applied for motions to admit or strike out evidence that is likely to come up during the trial.
There are six (6) defendants in the case, including rapper Jeffery Williams, also known as Young Thug, Marquavius Huey, Deamonte “Yak Gotti” Kendrick, Quamarvious Nichols, Rodalius Ryan, and Shannon Stillwell.
Young Thug is facing two counts- of conspiracy to violate the RICO act of Georgia and participation in criminal street gang activity. His co-defendant, Marquavius Huey, has a longer rap sheet and is charged with 19 offenses, including (1) conspiracy to violate the RICO Act of Georgia, (3) armed robbery, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of possession of a firearm during a commission of a felony (6&7), two counts of armed robbery (14&15), two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (16&17), hijacking a motor vehicle in the first degree (18), two counts of possession of a firearm during commission of a felony (19&20), four counts of participation in a criminal street gang (21, 22, 23, 46), possession of a weapon by incarcerated individual (44), and possession of a telecommunication device by incarcerated individual (45).
Kendrick is charged with conspiracy to violate the RICO Act of Georgia and murder, while Nichols is facing two counts, including conspiracy to violate the RICO Act of Georgia and theft by receiving stolen property. Rodalius Ryan is also charged with conspiracy to violate the RICO Act of Georgia, while Stillwell is facing seven charges, including conspiracy to violate the RICO Act of Georgia, two counts of murder, participation in criminal street gang activity, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon previously convicted for the use of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
During a hearing on Wednesday, Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Mike Carlson contended that lyrics from music were not “rap lyrics” but “gang evidence.”
“The question is not rap lyrics, the question is gang lyrics and the question particularly are YSL gang lyrics coming as part of the admissions, adoptive admissions or co-conspirator admissions…coming from YSL gang members,” Carlson said.
He added that the Thug and his co-defendants, Yak Gotti, and others, used the lyrics to boast about the crimes they committed.
“The lyrics are being used to prove the nature of YSL as a racketeering enterprise, and the expectations of YSL as a criminal street gang. [There are] party admissions for even the offense of murder here; this is [for] evidentiary use,” the prosecutor said.
The defense is pushing back against having the lyrics used in court based on the defendant’s First Amendment rights as well as concerns as to the evidentiary value as to whether it is of probative value or prejudicial.
According to Carlson, the defendants are part of YSL, which is a violent street gang affiliated with the national Bloods gang.
Some of the lyrics referenced by prosecutors are claims by Thug and others, including some of the defendants who have taken Alford Plea deals and publicly renounced YSL as a gang.
Yak Gotti, who is facing a murder charge, is accused of boasting about the crime.
“I rep my life for real… for slimes you I kill,” one lyric read. Another said, “I got bodies on bodies.”
The prosecutors also included a lyric by Young Thug, which they claimed was an admission that he caused YFN Lucci’s mother’s house to be shot up.
“I shot at his mommy, now he no longer mention me,” the lyric read. Another lyric read: “my n**a really be slime and we committin’ them crimes… hop out and shoot…you wanna be slime…go catch you a body.”
The prosecutor claims that another lyric from Thug also speaks to the death of Lucci’s manager Donovan Thomas, who was shot and killed in 2015- “Honestly truth be told, YSL won’t fold, pick his a$$ off from the balcony…”
Fulton County Deputy District Attorney Simone Hylton also revealed lyrics by Stillwell Nicolhs and two defendants who took plea deals – Miles Farley and Winnie Lee – “I just beat a murder rap, I paid my lawyer, 30 for that… me and my slimes are above the law.”
In the meantime, attorneys representing the respective defendants were able to address the lyrics, with Stillwell’s lawyer raising that evidence like rap lyrics could not be approved carte blanche as evidence while Thug’s lawyer, Brian Steel, raising that evidence like gang signs raised by the prosecution has no foot as hip hop culture has made using gang signs almost normal.
He also contested the prosecution’s claim that speech itself isn’t protected, noting that the court must do a First Amendment analysis to ensure the rapper’s right to freedom of speech isn’t violated.
Steel also stuck to the basics as he urged Judge Glanville that the state has a burden of proof to show that there was the actus and mens rea in committing a crime.
“What the state is doing is saying ‘generally’… but every crime charged has to have the mental state or intent,” he said.
Steel also stuck to his guns even as the judge got testy and snipped at him several times. According to the lawyer, rap lyrics are “Artistic work” that is protected by the First Amendment.
He added that the arguments by the prosecution, if recognized and approved by the judge, would expand what the state of the law is currently to include “protected speech” as admissions.
“If you allow this evidence in … it’s going to have a chilling effect if it is admitted wrongly,” Steel said about a possible precedent that could see rap lyrics leading to prosecution.
He added, “They can’t prove Jeffrey Williams said the lyrics… the state is just assuming things. And that’s why they’re targeting the lyrics. They’re targeting free speech and they’re hiding it.”
However, Judge Glanville said the prosecution is using the lyrics as supporting evidence and for a “particular purpose.”