Rick Ross returns to Fayette court for pretrial hearing

Rapper Rick Ross looks on as defense attorney Steven Sadow gives his opening statement at Friday morning’s pretrial hearing. Ross, whose legal name is William Roberts II, and his bodyguard Nadrian Lateef James are facing charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony from a June 7, 2015 incident.  (Christopher Fairchild)

Rapper Rick Ross looks on as defense attorney Steven Sadow gives his opening statement at Friday morning’s pretrial hearing. Ross, whose legal name is William Roberts II, and his bodyguard Nadrian Lateef James are facing charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony from a June 7, 2015 incident. (Christopher Fairchild)

Part I

Rick Ross walked into the Fayette County Court House Friday shortly before 9 a.m. wearing a cream colored shirt with textured sleeves, cuffs with a zipper, white pants, and no excessive jewelry. By any typical defendant standards, the clothing choice would’ve stood out, but it was a tame choice by Ross’s standards.

The famous rapper, who owns the 235-acre former estate of Evander Holyfield in Fayetteville, remained calm, quiet, and relaxed as he sat down in the first row of a nearly empty courtroom, took out a yellow notepad, and jotted down notes to prepare himself for a lengthy pretrial hearing.

On the morning of June 24, 2015, Ross, whose legal name is William Roberts II, and his bodyguard Nadrian Lateef James were arrested and charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony for an incident that occurred on June 7, 2015. On Friday, the two were defendants in a hearing that, even after five hours in court, appears to only have just begun.

Since the incident occurred nearly two years ago, Ross has gained back some of his freedom, but his ankle monitor is a sign his actions are being watched. Still, Ross hasn’t lost a step in the public eye. Exactly one week prior to Friday’s hearing, he released his new album “Rather You Than Me.” Friends and family showed up to Fayetteville to support Ross during the hearing, including fellow Miami-based rapper DJ Khaled.

Ross and James were accompanied by three attorneys: Sean Joyner, Adamma McKinnon, and Steven Sadow, the latter of whom handled a majority of Friday’s arguments. On the other side, Michele McCutcheon was the prosecuting attorney for the state of Georgia, seeking justice for Jonathan Zamudio and Leonardo Ceceras, the two groundskeepers who claim they were attacked at the estate’s guest house by Ross and James.

On March 31, 2016, the defendants pled not guilty to all charges. Although the case hasn’t spent much time in court as of yet, Ross and James have used the past few years slowly trying to earn back their freedom while the case is settled. By making a motion to modify their bail order, the defendants have gotten out of house arrest and received the right to travel internationally.

Now, with hours in court ahead of them, the biggest challenge remains: proving innocence. On Friday, much of the discussion was aimed at what transpired on the morning June 7, 2015.

The two sides began by describing the scene of that morning. Sadow said neither Zamudio nor Ceceras were living at the guest house at the estate but rather were allowed to stay there while working. When Ross and James found out the two groundskeepers were letting others stay in the guest house, they went to investigate.

Sadow took three steps toward Judge W. Fletcher Sams as he explained in detail a scene of Ross cautiously entering the guest house. According to Sadow, Ross walked into a pitch black building with a gun. Ross heard a noise, so he slowly moved in the direction of the sound.

As Sadow sidestepped, acting out Ross’s movements from nearly two years ago, he reached out his hand and said Ross did the same with his .9-mm Glock, as he hit someone in the dark and the lights were turned on almost immediately afterward. The guests were told to leave the premises.

“They didn’t have a right to be there, other than the fact that Mr. Roberts allowed them to stay there when they were working,” Sadow said. “It wasn’t as if they were living there full time.”

McCutcheon, in her retelling of the story from what she had gathered, said the guest house room was not pitch black, and Ross had entered the building brandishing his gun at the people inside, one of which was a child. After leaving the estate and calling 911, Zamudio and Ceceras re-entered later that day escorted by a law enforcement vehicle in a UHaul truck to collect their belongings, which McCutcheon argued would only be necessary if the groundskeepers were welcome to stay in the guest house for more than a day or two.

Sadow argued that Ross and James acted in self-defense, but McCutcheon stated otherwise.

“The state expects that this is a case, Judge, not about defense of habitation, not about defense of persons who were intruding forcibly onto your property, it was an aggravated assault against persons who were properly present at the location,” McCutcheon said.

Stay tuned for Parts II and III of Rick Ross’s pretrial hearing this weekend.

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About

Justin Fedich is a reporter for the Fayette County News. He has been a reporter for various papers around the Southeast, including the Athens Banner-Herald and the Selma Times-Journal. Justin is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in digital and broadcast journalism and a sports media certificate.


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