Two months after Young Thug and Gunna were arrested on RICO charges in Atlanta, they’re still in jail. Both rappers, whom prosecutors claim are high-ranking members of the “criminal street gang” YSL, asked a Fulton County court to release them on bond, but both were denied—a stringent and somewhat uncommon step for the court to take. Prosecutors convinced a judge that if Young Thug and Gunna were freed, they might intimidate, harm, or even kill witnesses testifying against them. For now, it looks like they’ll remain in jail until their trial, which is set to begin in January of 2023.
Attorneys for Young Thug (born Jefferey Williams) and Gunna (born Sergio Kitchens) have balked at the claim that they’d be a threat to witnesses, and filed motions asking the judge to reconsider his decision. Young Thug’s attorney, Brian Steel, argued that the prosecution’s case for keeping Thug incarcerated was “based on inaccurate, misleading, erroneous information.” Gunna’s legal team, led by Steven Sadow, denied that Gunna was in a “command position” within YSL, and emphasized the fact that he hasn’t been accused of a single violent crime.
The two rappers also volunteered to go to pretty extreme lengths to guarantee they wouldn’t flee Georgia, and that they wouldn’t be capable of intimidating witnesses. Among other things, Young Thug offered to hire off-duty cops to monitor him at his home 24 hours a day and limit those allowed to visit him to a list of people approved by the court. Gunna offered to put up $750,000 in collateral, along with his three homes and two others owned by his parents. And both men agreed to have all of their electronic communications monitored.
But so far, none of that has been enough to convince a judge to let them out on bail. To get an idea of whether that might change, VICE called up Chris Timmons, a former prosecutor who’s litigated and advised on a number of RICO cases in Georgia. He weighed in on what options Young Thug and Gunna have going forward, and how likely it is that they’ll be released on bond before they head to trial.
VICE: What did you think of the judge’s decision to deny Young Thug bail?
Chris Timmons: From looking at the judge’s decision, probably the biggest factor was intimidation of witnesses. The state proffered evidence that witnesses were being intimidated, the judge found that proffer credible, and he decided to reject bond as a result of that. I wasn’t surprised.
Young Thug’s attorney has argued that the prosecution’s case for denying his client bond was built on bad information and false claims. What did you make of that?
The law in the state of Georgia when it comes to proffers [editor’s note: a “proffer” is a legal term for presenting evidence in court for immediate acceptance or rejection] is that unless the proffer is objected to, then it stands in the place of evidence. There didn’t appear to be an objection to the proffer. If there’s no objection to the proffer, then you can proceed by the word of the prosecutor. So what the prosecutor said is going to stand as evidence. Now I understand based on the motion for reconsideration, Mr. Steel is making the point that there was no evidence presented. However, there doesn’t have to be to uphold the judge’s decision on the bond.
Don Geary, who is the prosecutor in the case and who handled the bond hearing, [has a] great reputation. He’s honest. There’s no reason that he would make things up. And so I expect part of that professional respect is why there wasn’t an objection at the time.
Do you think Young Thug’s motion for reconsideration might get him out of jail?
It’s difficult to predict, but it’s unusual to see judges change their mind. When I dealt with bond hearings when I was a prosecutor, typically it was one shot and done. There’s a possibility that it could go up on appeal, but when an appellate court is looking at a decision of a judge, particularly when it comes to bond hearings, they’re incredibly deferential. It’s among the highest standards when it comes to appellate review; I believe it’s abuse of discretion. And so unless the judge is way out of bounds, the Court of Appeals is not going to reverse the trial court on something like that.
“The RICO charge factors in just like if somebody was charged with murder. It’s a pretty serious charge.”
Young Thug offered to go to great lengths to demonstrate he wouldn’t be a flight risk and wouldn’t harm witnesses if he were released on bond, from wearing an ankle monitor, to getting off-duty cops to make sure he didn’t leave his house, to having his communications monitored. How typical is it for someone to volunteer to do that, and how compelling did you find that offer?
An ankle monitor is a standard tactic, but everything beyond that is extreme. I’ve never heard of anybody willing to pay for 24-hour security to watch them. That probably removes the threat of leaving the premises, leaving the state, or fleeing internationally. But I still think it would be possible, even with off-duty police officers on the premises, for somebody to make communications that threaten witnesses. When you’re using the bathroom, you’re probably not going to have an off-duty police officer in there with you.
It wouldn’t be that difficult for these guys to get access to a cell phone, even if they were being watched. (As far as cell phones go, there’s a problem across the state with cell phones being smuggled into the prison system.) Even if they promised that they would only use a certain cell phone and only call certain numbers, it would still be possible for them to use that [other] cell phone.
At his bond hearing, prosecutors argued Gunna was in a “command position” in YSL. Gunna’s attorneys have taken issue with the fact that prosecutors didn’t claim that in their indictment, and didn’t introduce evidence to back that claim up during his bond hearing. What do you make of that?
The judge seemed most concerned with the threat to witnesses: That as the alleged head of this criminal organization, these guys would use their position of power to order threats or hits against the various witnesses that were involved. Whether he’s in the command structure or not, it looks like [Gunna] is named in a number of RICO [counts] that would indicate that he’s facing some serious time. And it appears based on the indictment that he and [Young Thug] are pretty closely related. There are a number of [counts] that name just the two of them. I think based on [prosecutor Don] Geary’s proffer, that was probably enough for the judge to make the decision that Gunna would be equally likely to be involved in witness intimidation as [Young Thug].
Similarly to Young Thug, Gunna made an effort to demonstrate he wouldn’t be a flight risk and wouldn’t harm witnesses if he were released, offering to go on house arrest, to have all of his communications monitored, and to put up five homes and $750,000 as collateral. How does that stack up to a typical bail offer that a defendant might make?
In terms of putting up the property and putting up the money, that was extreme—a lot higher than what I’ve seen. But that’s intended to secure their appearance in court. That doesn’t really have anything to do with witnesses. They’re in two different buckets. Intimidating witnesses, that’s more along the lines of monitoring communications, etc. And apparently, Judge [Ural] Glanville thought that those mechanisms were not sufficient to prevent him from intimidating witnesses. It is difficult, even when you’ve got 24-hour surveillance, to determine whether all of somebody’s communications are actually being monitored. Like I said before, there are multiple examples of cell phones being snuck into a jail, which is a pretty secure facility. So it’s difficult.
“They’ve got great lawyers, and they may find a way to pull a rabbit out of their hat. But I think it is likely that they will remain in custody until the time of their trial.”
Do you think Gunna’s motion to have the judge reconsider granting him bond might get him out of jail?
It’s unusual, in my experience, to have a judge grant a motion for reconsideration. It’s difficult to say, but I would think it would be unlikely. But you’ve got great lawyers on the defense side. If there’s a way to get a motion for reconsideration heard, they would be the ones to be able to do it.
So let’s say that these motions to reconsider are denied. What could Young Thug and Gunna’s attorneys do from there to try to get them out of jail?
There are two different ways. They can appeal the motion. They can also file what’s referred to as a writ of habeas corpus. [In the latter case], a Superior Court judge in Cobb County would make a decision as to whether what Judge Glanville did with regard to the hearing was proper. And then if that was denied, it would be appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court immediately as opposed to going to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Mr. Steel [Young Thug’s attorney] is an appellate expert, one of the top appellate criminal attorneys in the state, so he will have his reasons as to which way he’ll go.
How likely do you think it is that either Young Thug or Gunna will get out on bail before their trial in January of 2023?
They’ve got great lawyers, and they may find a way to pull a rabbit out of their hat. But I think it is likely that they will remain in custody until the time of their trial.
Broadly speaking, how common is it for a judge to deny a defendant bond in Georgia?
It’s an unusual situation for somebody to be without bond, and there’s usually a great reason behind it: a credible threat against witnesses, or a threat of flight. No bond is going to get a lot of scrutiny. That’s not something that the Fulton County District Attorney’s office is going to take lightly. No prosecutor starts off with a decision to give a case no bond. And some of that is about credibility. These are judges that you’ve got to work with over and over again. And if you show up every single time with a [request for] no bond on every single case, the judge is not going to give you the benefit of the doubt in the cases where there actually should be no bond.
Somebody with Don Geary’s reputation is not going to try to hold somebody without bond unless they believe in their heart of hearts that it’s necessary to protect witnesses or necessary in some other way. You just don’t do it.
Do defendants in Georgia have a particularly hard time getting out on bond when they’re indicted on RICO charges?
It’s a case-by-case basis, but the RICO charge factors in just like if somebody was charged with murder. It’s a pretty serious charge. It’s more likely that they’re going to be denied bond if the case is charged as a RICO as opposed to a series of interrelated crimes.
Are there any other reasons Young Thug and Gunna’s judge might reconsider his decision to deny them bond?
If it looks like they’re going to be in custody indefinitely, at that point, the judge may be more likely to grant a bond. In this particular case, it looks like they’ve already got a trial date set for January 2023. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty quick turnaround. A defendant can be in pre-trial custody for a year or more. We’re talking seven months. For these two gentlemen, it’s going to seem like an eternity. It’s easy for me to say, since I’m not sitting in a jail cell, but realistically, that’s not a long time. Unless this gets pushed out farther, it’s unlikely that the judge is going to come back and reconsider it. If there are a bunch of delays, if the trial keeps getting pushed, that’s going to be a factor that may play into the court granting bail. But you’re talking about excellent prosecutors, and you’ve got one of the more significant cases, if not the most significant case, pending in the county. They’ll be ready to go.
Drew Schwartz is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow him on Twitter.