Jurors began deliberating Tuesday at R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago, sifting through a month of evidence and arguments to weigh the charges accusing the singer of producing child pornography, luring minors for sex and of successfully rigging his child pornography trial in 2008.
A day after prosecutors delivered their closing argument, Kelly’s lead attorney made hers. Standing on a podium a few feet in front of the jurors, Jennifer Bonjean said the main government witnesses were admitted liars who testified with immunity to ensure they could not be charged.
At times outraged and raising her voice, Bonjean likened their testimony and other evidence to a cockroach and the government’s case to a bowl of soup.
“You don’t just pull out the cockroach and eat the rest of the soup. You throw away all the soup,” the jurors said. She said of the prosecution case: “There are just too many cockroaches.”
As Bonjean spoke, Kelly, dressed in a gray suit and black mask, looked calm at a nearby defense table. He appeared to shake his head slightly a few times as a prosecutor spoke.
Kelly, 55, was sentenced in June to 30 years in prison at a separate federal trial in New York where he was found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking. Convictions on some of the 13 charges Kelly faces in his current trial could add years to his jail term.
Presenting the government’s rebuttal after Bonjean was closed, prosecutor Jeannice Appenteng told jurors to remember the girls and women Kelly allegedly abused.
“When you are in the calm of the jury room, consider the evidence in light of who is at the center of this case. Kelly’s victims: Jane, Nia, Pauline, Tracy and Brittany,” Appenteng said, referring to five Kelly accusers named in the charging documents by their aliases or first names.
Four of them testified. Not Britain.
The prosecutor also pointed to testimony that as Kelly’s fame skyrocketed in the mid-1990s, his staff and associates increasingly tailored everything they did to what Kelly wanted.
“And ladies and gentlemen, what R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” Appenteng said.
Earlier, Bonjean implored jurors not to retreat to the jury room with an impression of Kelly informed by media coverage of him in recent years or by prosecutors during the trial.
“They’re throwing labels like sexual predator,” she said of prosecutors. “Labels and sweeping generalizations are distractions meant to make you lose your humanity for this man.”
She described Kelly as a flawed genius who had only “functional illiteracy” since childhood and was ill-equipped to navigate his fame and fortune. She said being abused as a child also affected her deeply.
Bonjean said some witnesses who testified with immunity did not come to the courthouse in Chicago, Kelly’s hometown, to tell the unvarnished truth.
“They came here to tell the government’s version of the truth,” she said.
Among other things, Bonjean cited Kelly’s ex-girlfriend, Lisa Van Allen, who testified about how she stole a sex tape from a Kelly gym bag in the early 2000s. She also pointed Kelly’s former merchandising agent, Charles Freeman, who testified that he asked Kelly for $1 million in exchange for returning another potentially incriminating video. Both testified with immunity.
At his closing on Monday, prosecutor Elizabeth Pozolo told jurors that weeks of evidence proved the singer had taken advantage of his fame to sexually abuse minors and recorded the abuse on video. She described Kelly as a secret sexual predator.
“Robert Kelly abused many girls for many years,” Pozolo said, referring to the Grammy winner by his full name. “He committed horrific crimes against children. … All these years later, the dark side of Robert Kelly came out.
Bonjean twice called for a mistrial on Monday, complaining that closing arguments by attorneys for Kelly’s co-defendants, Derrell McDavid and Milton Brown, were based on the presumption that “the world now knows that Mr. Kelly is a sexual predator”.
“The presumption of innocence has been abolished for him,” she said. Judge Harry Leinenweber dismissed the claims.
Known for his hit ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and sex-infused songs such as ‘Bump n’ Grind’, Kelly sold millions of albums even after allegations of sexual misconduct began circulating in the media. 1990s. Widespread outrage emerged after the #MeToo reckoning and the 2019 Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Kelly and McDavid, the singer’s former business manager, are accused of rigging Kelly’s 2008 trial for child pornography by intimidating and paying off witnesses.
Kelly faces 13 counts, including four counts of producing child pornography, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice by rigging the 2008 trial, one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, two counts reception and five counts of incitement to sexual relations with minors.
McDavid is charged with four counts, including two counts of receiving child pornography, one of conspiring to do so and one count of conspiring to obstruct justice by rigging the 2008 trial.
Brown faces a single count of conspiracy to receive child pornography.
Pozolo focused much of his argument on the government’s star witness, an accuser who went by the name “Jane” and who said Kelly sexually assaulted her hundreds of times starting when she was 14.
“He committed degrading acts on her for his own pleasure,” Pozolo said.
She reminded jurors of graphic video footage they had viewed, which Jane testified depicted Kelly, around the age of 30, abusing her at the age of 14. The videos shown included one at the heart of Kelly’s 2008 trial. Jurors later said they had no choice but to acquit Kelly because Jane had not testified.
“Who uses a 14 year old to film a video like this? she says. “That man. Robert Kelly.
Prior to the 2008 trial, Pozolo said, Kelly and his associates rushed to retrieve several sex videos that had disappeared from a collection he often carried in a large gym bag.
In doing so, she said, Kelly’s associates sought “to cover up the fact that … R&B superstar R. Kelly is actually a sexual predator.”
In closing, a lawyer for McDavid said prosecutors needed to show his client actually knew about any abuse of Jane by Kelly in the 2000s – not just that it was likely he knew.
“Did they prove he knew…behind a reasonable doubt?” asked Beau Brindley. “They do not have.”
Pozolo balked at the idea that McDavid had no idea in the 2000s that the abuse allegations could be credible after he helped recover missing recordings and handed bags of money to people who sent back videos that McDavid knew he could destroy Kelly.
—Michael Tarm, Associated Press
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