The quiet calm that typically hangs over the ceremonial courtroom in Chicago’s federal courthouse has been displaced in recent days by the pummeling beats and hyper-violent lyrics that are signatures of the city’s drill rap sound.
Prosecutors have played a series of videos in an effort to prove that rapper FBG Duck was gunned down on the Gold Coast in August 2020 as part of a yearslong gang war that was stoked by a series of diss tracks.
They allege that members and associates of the O Block faction of the Black Disciples targeted Duck, real name Carlton Weekly, after he released a scathing song called “Dead Bitches,” which was played in open court.
The track by Duck, a member of the rival Tookaville faction of the Gangster Disciples, is just one of the songs the government is seizing on to make its case that O Block is a criminal enterprise.
But Marc Barnett, one of the roughly dozen defense attorneys, has argued that drill rap is “strictly for entertainment.”
Looming over the case is rapper King Von, real name Dayvon Bennett, who allegedly placed a bounty on Duck’s head. He was never charged in the case and was killed in an apparently unrelated shooting in Atlanta.
On trial in the murder and racketeering case are Marcus Smart, 24; Christopher Thomas, 24; Kenneth Roberson, 30; Charles Liggins, 32; Tacarlos Offerd, 32; and Ralph Turpin, 34.
Jurors on Tuesday watched King Von’s video for “Took Her To The O,” an apparent reference to O Block, which prosecutors say also refers to the Parkway Gardens housing complex that serves as the gang faction’s power base. The song was released just months before Duck was killed and allegedly served as a foreshadowing of his violent death.
FBI Agent Domonique Dixon said the song includes references to both Duck and his late brother, FBG Brick, and the video shows Von fatally shooting a man who shares the same features as Duck.
A government witness, cooperating in exchange for a reduced sentence in a gun case, testified Tuesday that one of the defendants, Kenneth “Kenny Mac” Roberson, told him he took part in the brazen shooting because Von had placed a hit on Duck.
But Roberson, who prosecutors say is a member of another gang faction, wouldn’t take an O Block chain in exchange for his role in the killing.
Prosecutors say that Von paid $128,000 to buy diamond-encrusted O Block pendants from an Atlanta jewelry store, some of them purchased after Duck’s killing. Smart was pictured with Von at the jewelry store and alluded to the pendants as trophies on social media, according to evidence presented in the case.
Without the jury present, prosecutors sparred with defense attorneys about a video blog that appears to show Von handing out stacks of cash to associates at an apartment at Parkway Gardens in May 2020.
Cynthia Giacchetti, an attorney for Liggins, raised concerns that the video could lead jurors to believe “this money is sinister” and “connected to the murder of Duck in some way.”
“It is a thing that celebrities do to get attention, to get likes, to develop their persona,” she said about doling out cash.
Steve Greenberg, one of Roberson’s attorneys, sought to show music videos by Blink 182, Drake and the rapper YG to demonstrate that “a musician handing out money is not unusual.”
Judge Martha Pacold allowed him to play just one of them.
“I’ll play the Drake one because that’s the easiest to listen to,” Greenberg, the trial’s resident jokester, said before later playing the song “God’s Plan.”
Jurors have also seen a video released by Offerd, also known as Losa Dosa, in which he dons an O Block pendant while rapping at Parkway Gardens.
Prosecutors also played a clip of a song that Smart, or Muwop, posted to Instagram nearly a year after Duck was killed.
The clip appears to include a violent reference to someone from 63rd Street, similar to the diss King Von made in “Took Her To The O.” Duck’s gang faction, Tookaville, is based around 63rd and St. Lawrence Avenue.
“Dude from 63rd couldn’t get back up. … Know a boss clapped up. Yeah, we had to mask up,” Smart raps.
Meanwhile, the potential role of Von’s mentor, Lil Durk, remains unclear.
Toward the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, the government witness said he believed Roberson had gained “more ranking” within the Black Disciples after the witness saw him hanging out with Durk’s brother D Thang, real name Dontay Banks.
Turpin, who allegedly alerted the other defendants to Duck’s location, had talked to someone on a phone number associated with D Thang at the time of the shooting, prosecutors say.
D Thang was shot and killed outside a Harvey strip club in June 2021. His more famous brother appears to be identified as “Individual E” in court records.
In questioning Dixon about who FBI agents had in their sights during the investigation, Greenberg suggested that Durk wasn’t important.
“Did I say he wasn’t important?” Dixon shot back.