Trial over dolls brings rapper T.I. to federal court
He and his wife, Tiny, say toy giant MGA copied Tiny's daughter Zonnique's OMG Girlz
“I ain’t worried about the feds’ investigation on me. I don’t care that they at my shows and they winking on me.”
T.I. has come a long way since rapping those lines in the 2004 song “U Don’t Know Me.” The Ronald Reagan Federal Building & Courthouse in Santa Ana, California, is hosting the self-proclaimed “King of the South,” his wife, Tiny Harris, and her daughter Zonnique Pullins for a civil trial over Zonnique’s music group the OMG Girlz and MGA Entertainment’s OMG Dolls.
The three-time Grammy winner is expected to take the stand first thing Friday morning. MGA’s lawyer Chase Scolnick was still cross-examining Tiny when court ended for the day on Thursday, but T.I. is booked next week and can’t be in court again until the week after, so he’s testifying out of order. Tiny will resume testifying after him, and T.I. may have to return to the stand the week after next if the attorneys don’t finish questioning him today.
Given how the trial is going so far, I bet he’ll be questioned extensively about the lyrics for some T.I. bangers like “No Mediocre.” Keller tried to ask Zonnique about the lyrics to that song today, but Senior U.S. District Judge James V. Selna sustained an objection.
Hopefully the attorneys have done their research by reading articles like this so the jury gets a full look at T.I.’s entire catalog.
Judge Selna has already prohibited any mention of T.I.’s time in federal prison (he served a year for a gun conviction in 2009). Today he rejected a request from Scolnick that the jury see clips from T.I. and Tiny’s 2011-2017 reality TV show “T.I. & Tiny: Friends & Family Hustle” that involve the family adjusting to T.I.’s release from prison, and he cut off questions from Scolnick about other activity on the show.
Scolnick cited the fact that Tiny’s lawyer Erin Ranahan of Winston Strawn LLP showed clips from the show involving Tiny’s work with the OMG Girlz. But Selna said his ruling that T.I.’s prison term would be “more prejudicial than probative,” (a legal standard) stood. Jurors also won’t hear of criminal sexual assault allegations against the couple that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office did not pursue charges on in 2021.
T.I.’s lawyer Dave Scheper appeared to offer a brief preview T.I.’s testimony in his opening statement on Wednesday when he told the jury the rapper had “begrudgingly went to federal court” and as they will hear, “he doesn’t think much of the U.S. legal system.”
There is a lot I need to get out about this trial in a Los Angeles Magazine article, which I am working on. Meanwhile, check out my Twitter threads from Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and read my LAMag preview of the trial here.
Update: Here is the article!
Jury acquits 3 prisoners of 1st-degree murder
A federal jury in Santa Ana on Wednesday convicted three so-called Sureño gang “foot soldiers” of murder for the beating death of fellow foot solider and inmate Javer “Osito” Sandez in 2013 at the federal prison in Victorville. But there’s a catch: The conviction was for second-degree murder. The jury acquitted Aurelio “Augie” Patino, Christopher “Sneaky” Ruiz and Jose “Torch” Villegas of first-degree murder.
The men had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, so the first-degree murder acquittal is a major win for them. A conviction for premeditated murder would mean automatic life in prison. Second-degree murder carries a maximum of life in prison, but U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney will have discretion at sentencing.
I saw some memorable trial moments last week, such as when retired Bureau of Prisons official Roy “Tim” Gravette testified for the defense, only to be met with a simple yet brutal cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Staples, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Greg Scally and
“Just to be clear: You’re not blaming the Bureau of Prisons for the murder of the inmate in this case are you?” Staples asked as his first question.
“No,” Roy “Tim” Gravette answered quickly. Carney sustained an argumentative objection from one of Sneaky’s lawyers, Melissa Weinberger. When Staples asked “That responsibility lies with the defendants, doesn’t it?”
Staples proceeded to ask Gravette about his belief that the corrections officer monitoring a berm at the yard should have seen the assault and responded quickly. (It took prison staff 40 minutes to find Sandez.) He focused on the fact that Gravette never personally visited the Victorville prison, and the fact that he questioned the honesty of the officer who said he couldn’t see the yard well from where he was stationed. Staples sounded disgusted with Gravette in his questioning. His last question was, “yet you are going to sit here and charge a BOP officer with lying on no basis whatsoever?”
Carney sustained an argumentative objection, but Staples had had enough. “I’ll withdraw the question. Nothing further,” he said as he walked away from the lectern.
Less than 24 hours earlier, jurors heard a detailed recounting of the assault from Adilson “Shanky” Reyes, the inmate who’s trying to avoid a life sentence for first-degree murder by testifying against Torch, Augie and Sneaky.
Shanky is a natural storyteller, and he described Osito’s final minutes in animated detail, gesturing with his hands and standing up at the witness stand to demonstrate the attack. He repeatedly slapped the witness stand to demonstrate sounds of punches and kicks he said thundered through the prison yard. At one point, he physically heaved his own shoulders upward and collapsing his head onto the witness stand. It was really horrifying.
But still, Shanky’s testimony seemed shaky on whether Osito’s death was planned. He said the order from the Sureno bosses was to “take him out,” which he said meant put him in the hospital but also said meant death. Prosecutors questioned him about other punishment methods by Surenos that involved blows only to a man’s torso, and they called to the stand a BOP gangs expert who has studied Surenos and discussed the orderly methods of assault that don’t result in death.
Still, the lapse in response from the prison staff was apparent. Osito was beaten and left in the prison yard, and no one found him for 40 minutes. And there wasn’t immediate medical attention given to him when they did.
Sentencing currently is scheduled for June 12.
Thank you for reading the second edition of Substack newsletter. I started this as a way to share a roundup of my work every week as I expand my legal affairs reporting and trial coverage. Sign up for free and you will have a collection of my latest Los Angeles Magazine articles, photography, videos, Twitter threads and exclusive insights sent to your email inbox every week. I will be back next Friday. Meanwhile, follow me on Twitter.
Legal Affairs and Trials with Meghann Cuniff is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.