CHICAGO — R. Kelly’s federal trial on charges accusing him of making child pornography and rigging his 2008 child porn trial went to the jury on Tuesday after prosecutors and the defense wrapped up their cases.
A day after prosecutors delivered their closing argument, Kelly’s lead attorney made hers. Standing at a podium a few feet in front of the jurors, Jennifer Bonjean noted that many key government witnesses, including some of the women who accused Kelly of sexually abusing them, testified with immunity to ensure they wouldn’t be charged with previously lying to authorities.
Bonjean said they hadn’t come to the courthouse in Chicago, Kelly’s hometown, to tell the unvarnished truth. “They came in here,” she said, “to tell the government’s version of the truth.”
Among others, she cited Kelly ex-girlfriend Lisa Van Allen, who testified about how she stole a sex tape from a Kelly gym bag in the early 2000s. Bonjean also pointed to the testimony of Kelly’s former merchandizing agent Charles Freeman, who told jurors that he asked the singer for $1 million in exchange for returning another sex tape that could potentially incriminate the singer. Both testified with immunity.
Bonjean likened their testimony and other evidence to a cockroach and the government’s case to a bowl of soup the insect is found in.
“You don’t just pull out the cockroach and eat the rest of the soup,” she said, noting of the prosecution’s case: “There are just too many cockroaches.”
Bonjean reminded jurors that she told them during her opening statement that the government would rely on “perjurers, blackmailers and extortionists,” and said prosecutors had done just that.
In rebuttal, prosecutor Jeannice Appenteng cited testimony that showed as Kelly’s fame boomed around 1995, his staff and associates increasingly geared everything they did to what Kelly wanted.
“And ladies and gentlemen, what R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” she said.
Kelly faces charges including production of child pornography, enticing minor girls for sex and obstruction of justice by rigging his 2008 child pornography trial in state court, at which he was acquitted. Jurors were expected to began deliberating later Tuesday.
During her closing argument on Monday, prosecutor Elizabeth Pozolo told jurors that weeks of evidence proved the singer parlayed his fame to sexually abuse minors and record the abuse on video. She described Kelly as a secret sexual predator.
“Robert Kelly abused many girls over many years,” Pozolo said, referring to the 55-year-old Grammy winner by his full first name. “He committed horrible crimes against children. … All these years later, the hidden side of Robert Kelly has come out.”
Bonjean twice called for a mistrial Monday, complaining that closing arguments by attorneys for Kelly co-defendants Derrell McDavid and Milton Brown were grounded in the presumption that “the world now knows Mr. Kelly is a sex predator.”
“The presumption of innocence has been abolished for him,” Bonjean said, meaning Kelly was unable to get a fair trial. Judge Harry Leinenweber denied the requests.
Prosecutors will have the opportunity for a short rebuttal after Bonjean gives her closing argument in Kelly’s hometown of Chicago, where he rose from poverty to become an R&B superstar.
Known for his smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and for sex-infused songs such as “Bump n’ Grind,” Kelly sold millions of albums even after allegations of sexual misconduct began circulating in the 1990s. Widespread outrage emerged after the #MeToo reckoning and the 2019 docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Kelly and McDavid, Kelly’s former business manager, are accused of fixing the 2008 trial by intimidating and paying off witnesses. Both face child pornography charges. Brown, a former Kelly associate, is accused of receiving child pornography.
Kelly was sentenced in June to 30 years in prison after a separate federal trial in New York, where he was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking. Convictions on just a few of the 13 counts Kelly faces at his current trial could add years to his imprisonment.
Pozolo focused much of her closing argument on the government’s star witness, an accuser who went by “Jane” and who said Kelly sexually abused her hundreds of times starting when she was 14.
“He performed degrading acts upon her for his own sick pleasure,” Pozolo said.
She reminded jurors of graphic video footage they had watched, which Jane testified depicted Kelly, at around age 30, abusing her when she was 14. The videos shown included one at the heart Kelly’s 2008 trial. Jurors said later they had no choice but to acquit Kelly because Jane didn’t testify.
“Who does that? Who uses a 14-year-old child to film a video like this?” she said. “This man. Robert Kelly.”
Before Kelly’s 2008 trial, Pozolo said, Kelly and his associates scrambled to recover multiple sex videos that had gone missing from a collection he often carried around in a large gym bag.
By doing so, she said, Kelly associates sought “to cover up the fact that … R. Kelly, the R&B superstar, is actually a sexual predator.”
In his closing, an attorney for McDavid said prosecutors had to show that 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?” Beau Brindley asked. “They did not.”
Pozolo balked at the idea that McDavid had no inkling in the 2000s that the abuse allegations might be credible after helping to recover missing recordings and handing bags of cash to people who returned videos McDavid knew could destroy Kelly.
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