ATLANTA — Fulton County prosecutors are asking a judge to postpone the racketeering trial for rappers Young Thug and Gunna because eight of the 28 people charged in the sweeping gang case still don’t have defense attorneys.
In a motion filed Thursday, District Attorney Fani Willis asked that the trial date be moved to March 27, 2023. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville has tentatively scheduled the trial for Jan. 9.
The motion comes days after lead prosecutor Don Geary left the Fulton DA’s office for a position in Gwinnett County. Geary started his new role Monday, the Gwinnett DA’s office confirmed. It’s unclear who Willis will appoint to the lead high-profile case following the veteran prosecutor’s departure.
In Thursday’s motion, Willis said while 25 of the 28 defendants charged in the gang indictment are in custody, eight of those people still lack counsel. Postponing the trial nearly three months, she wrote, should give the defendants time to obtain court-appointed attorneys while giving those public defenders time to prepare.
“In the present case, the state now raises concerns that eight defendants may be forced to trial with ‘ill-prepared appointed counsel,’” the motion says. “The discovery in this case includes over three terabytes of data. Further, it is likely that appointed counsel will have other matters pending during the three months prior to this trial.”
Continuing the trial to the final week of March, Willis said, will protect the speedy trial rights of those pushing for a quick trial “while also ensuring that the additional eight defendants have properly prepared appointed counsel.”
Prosecutors have accused Young Thug and Gunna, whose real names are Jeffery Lamar Williams and Sergio Kitchens, of being the leaders of a criminal street gang responsible for much of Atlanta’s crime. The pair were among more than two dozen alleged “Young Slime Life” members indicted earlier this year.
The musicians are accused of conspiring to violate Georgia’s criminal racketeering law, but the indictment outlines more serious crimes allegedly carried out by their associates, ranging from drug possession to murder.
Attorneys for the award-winning rappers strongly deny the charges, arguing YSL is nothing more than a record label and that their clients are pillars of the community.
“Mr. Williams has committed no crime, yet he languishes in a county jail without bond,” Young Thug’s attorney Brian Steel told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Mr. Williams has filed a statutory demand for a speedy trial, and now the prosecution wants to delay trial for 2 1/2 more months. It is unconscionable.”
While some of the defendants have filed motions to sever their cases and be tried individually, the state maintains everyone charged should be tried together next year.
“Because all 25 defendants currently in custody were alleged to have participated in the same conspiracy, that is: the YSL criminal street gang, they should be tried together,” the motion reads.
Prosecutors also raised concerns about the “inconvenience and trauma” of requiring the “victims of violent gang crimes” to repeatedly testify in separate trials.
“As the State has repeatedly shown this Court through its previously filed motions and briefings, witness safety is a matter of grave concern in this case,” the filing reads. “Information about cooperating witnesses — served in discovery — has been publicly posted and shared on the internet. Multiple witnesses have expressed serious concern about their safety should they decide to testify. Therefore, severance is further discouraged.”
Those charged in the sprawling RICO indictment have repeatedly been denied bond over the objections of their attorneys. Williams remains held at the Cobb County jail while Kitchens is still behind bars in Henry County.
Since being indicted and arrested, Williams has only appeared via Zoom for hearings related to the case. Steele filed a motion Monday asking Glanville to allow Williams to begin attending hearings in person.
Steel argues that the current setup does not allow Williams to freely consult with counsel in a timely manner and asks Glanville to allow Williams to appear in person and sit at counsel table with his lawyers during all motions and other hearings that are not related to scheduling.
Motions hearings are scheduled for Oct. 13 in Glanville’s courtroom.