Day two of the YSL trial began Tuesday morning (November 28) with the opening statement of Young Thug’s defense attorney, Brian Steel. Steel’s speech lasted roughly three hours, pushing well into the afternoon. Thug was arrested in May 2022 along with 26 other alleged members of his crew in a sweeping indictment under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Most of these men either accepted plea deals or were severed from the indictment for separate reasons, leaving only six defendants to stand trial.
The statement began with the Steel describing Thug’s impoverished upbringing in Atlanta’s Jonesboro projects — one of 11 children in a small, three-bedroom apartment. Early on, he recounted how the rapper (born Jeffery Williams) chose his name, pulling it from the title of the Tupac song “P.Y.T. (Playa Young Thugs)” but dropping “Playa” because he was shy around women. “THUG,” he further explained, is an acronym for “Truly Humble Under God.” He went on to describe how Young Thug idolized ‘Pac and Lil Wayne as a teenager, drawing inspiration from Wayne’s style in particular during his early years (Wayne and Thug would later feud publicly).
According to Steel, Thug developed “two deep-embedded beliefs about our criminal justice system” as a child: a distaste for “snitches” who told lies about others on the stand to save themselves and a hatred for the police who harassed his community. Steel elaborated on the latter point, saying Thug had watched officers handcuff his hysterical mother after his brother had been shot before placing a sheet over his brother’s body while he was still breathing.
Steel spent most of his opening statement dissecting what the indictment lists as “overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy” in which Thug has been implicated. Going through each of these 36 overt acts individually, he began with the most serious ones, relating to Thug’s alleged involvement in the murder of Donovan Thomas Jr. Addressing the fact that the car allegedly used in Thomas’ murder was rented in Williams’ name, he described a series of events in which Kenneth Copeland (one of Thomas’ accused killers) asked Thug to rent the car for him under the pretense of needing a vehicle to transport his own family out of harms way. Steel explained that evidence will show Thug regularly rented cars for friends in need.
Later, he worked his way down to the social media posts and private messages deemed overt acts by the state, offering explanations for each one. He repeatedly defended Thug’s right to expression in the acts that referred to clothing Williams wore or hand signs he made in photos that the prosecution had construed as evidence of gang affiliation. When he got to the song lyrics included in the indictment as overt acts, he referred to the history of rap music’s disproportionate criminalization as compared to other art forms.
Once Steel finished his opening statement, presiding Judge Ural Glanville gave the jury a lunch break, after which they returned to hear opening statements from other defense attorneys.
Watch Law&Crime Network’s coverage of the full hearing below.
The YSL RICO trial officially began Monday (November 27) with an opening statement from Fulton County Chief Deputy District Attorney Adriane Love, which was met with numerous objections from the defense, including a motion for a mistrial by Steel that was denied after consideration by Judge Glanville.