R. Kelly's lawyer compares the singer to Martin Luther King Jr. and calls his accusers liars in closing argument

R. Kelly's lawyer compares the singer to Martin Luther King Jr. and calls his accusers liars in closing argument
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deveraux cannick r kelly
Defense lawyer Devereaux Cannick presents his closing arguments in R. Kelly's sex abuse trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in a courtroom sketch in New York, U.S., September 23, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
  • A lawyer for R. Kelly compared the singer to Martin Luther King Jr. in the defense's closing argument.

  • The lawyer also compared how Kelly likes being called "daddy" to Mike Pence calling his wife "mother."

  • Kelly's sex crimes trial in New York is wrapping up after five weeks of testimony.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

An attorney representing R. Kelly in his sex crimes trial invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and former Vice President Mike Pence, pleading the jury to acquit the singer in his sex crimes case.

Devereaux Cannick, the attorney, presented closing arguments Thursday afternoon following more than a month of testimony from around 50 witnesses in Brooklyn federal court.

He spoke to jurors about the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Cannick said King "was called a rabble-rouser, a communist," and was eventually murdered for trying to abide by protections enshrined in the US Constitution.

"'All I'm trying to do is make it true to what it said on paper,'" Cannick said, paraphrasing King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. "That's all Rob is trying to do."

Prosecutors accused Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, of sexually abusing more than 20 girls, women, and men, many of them when they were teenagers, and of directing his employees to procure women for sex in what amounted to a criminal enterprise. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Cannick described Kelly's relationships as consensual, saying he told all of the women that prosecutors brought forth as witnesses that he had multiple girlfriends. He said Kelly "treated them like gold," buying them "bags that cost more than cars," and brought them into his lavish lifestyle.

Throughout the trial, accusers said one of Kelly's many bizarre rules for their relationships was that they needed to call him "daddy." Cannick treated the accusation with scorn, saying that prosecutors were trying to criminalize a term of endearment. He pointed out that a text message from one accuser showed that she had called a friend "ho."

"'Ho' is good, 'daddy' is bad," Cannick said with sarcasm.

"It's almost a crime to call a man a daddy," he added. "I guess people can't do that anymore."

Cannick compared "daddy" to how former Vice President Mike Pence would refer to his wife.

"The former Vice President Mike Pence called his wife 'mother,'" Cannick said.

Prosecutors described videos they say show sexual abuse

Cannick followed Assistant US Attorney Elizabeth Geddes, who presented closing arguments for the prosecution that lasted about six hours. Geddes went through each of the racketeering and Mann Act violations prosecutors accused Kelly of, and explained how they believe the evidence that witnesses presented proves Kelly guilty of each crime.

Geddes also described video testimony that was shown to jurors but previously withheld from members of the public. She said the videos depicted episodes of abuse.

According to her description, in one video Kelly spanks an accuser - who testified under the pseudonym "Anna" - as punishment for breaking one of the rules he kept for his girlfriends. Anna, at Kelly's instruction, was then shown in the video walking back and forth and calling herself a "stupid bitch."

r kelly trial elizabeth geddes closing
Federal prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes concludes her closing arguments, asking the jury to convict R. Kelly during his sex abuse trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in a courtroom sketch in New York, U.S., September 23, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Another video shown to jurors depicts Kelly directing a woman to perform oral sex on "Alex," a pseudonym for a male accuser who testified earlier in the trial, according to Geddes. She said the video made it clear the encounter was not consensual.

"Take a look at her and Alex's facial expressions. They looked numb throughout," Geddes said Thursday. "You saw the defendant hold on to Dominique's hair as he pushed her head forcefully onto Alex's penis."

Geddes spoke at length about "Jane," a pseudonym for one of the central accusers in the trial. Jane testified that she first had sex with Kelly after he invited her to a hotel room where he said he'd listen to her audition her singing.

"He, an accomplished R&B singer. Her, a high school junior with dreams of becoming a singer," Geddes said. "The power imbalance was there from day one."

Kelly and Jane entered a years-long sexual relationship, and Geddes pointed jurors to a text message where he once told her "I want to groom you," and described how Kelly forced her to delete all of her social media accounts - as well as her email account.

"The defendant did what he could to mold Jane to every one of his desires," Geddes said, later adding: "In the defendant's eyes, apparently using email was too much. He was trying to isolate her."

Kelly's lawyer argued his relationships were unusual but not criminal

Kelly looked anxious through much of Geddes' closing argument. He fidgeted in his chair, scribbled notes, and shook his head. He told the judge Wednesday that he would not testify in his defense.

But Kelly had a different attitude for Cannick's closing argument. He leaned forward in his chair, unmoving, and gave Cannick his full attention.

Cannick took center stage as the other attorneys on Kelly's team - Nicole Blank Becker, who opened the trial and became its public face; Calvin Scholar, who handled much of the evidence throughout the proceedings; and Thomas Farinella - remained sitting at the defense table.

Cannick arrived late to court Thursday morning, missing a chunk of Geddes' closing arguments for the prosecution. He told jurors that Kelly's sexual proclivities, including "taping sex," and preferring younger women, didn't amount to the charges prosecutors brought against him.

"His label marketed him as a sex symbol, a playboy. So he started living that lifestyle," Cannick said. "It's a lifestyle, not a crime."

deveraux cannick r kelly trial
Defense attorney for R. Kelly, Deveraux Cannick leaves Brooklyn federal court for singer R. Kelly's sex abuse trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., September 23, 2021. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

Cannick also criticized Lifetime's "Surviving R. Kelly" documentary series, which was released shortly before the singer was arrested in 2019. Accusers detailed what they described as sexually abusive relationships with the singer in the series.

Cannick said the accusers who testified were all liars who were enabled by the government, and who sought to make money by saying a famous R&B singer sexually abused them. Cannick said the accusers stood to profit from book deals, documentaries, and civil lawsuits that would follow the criminal trial.

"A lot of people watched 'Surviving R. Kelly,' and unfortunately a lot of people are planning to survive off R. Kelly," he said.

Several accusers testified that they had never spoken about their sexual encounters with Kelly before the trial, never planned to discuss them again, and had no intention of reliving their traumatic experiences through civil litigation.

Cannick blasted famed women's rights attorney Gloria Allred as part of his closing argument. Allred represents five witnesses in the trial, including an accuser who said she never spoke about her experience before.

Kelly supporters heckled Allred as she left the courthouse Thursday afternoon, calling her a "loser."

r kelly trial testify
R. Kelly tells Judge Ann Donnelly that he does not wish to testify during his sex abuse trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in a courtroom sketch in New York, U.S., September 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

While Cannick presented innocuous explanations for some of the experiences accusers shared, he did not address the particulars of each story in his closing argument.

Several accusers described being flown to see Kelly, only to be kept in a room for days before the singer visited them just for sex. Cannick said Kelly flew his "girlfriends" around the country because he was in relationships with them, just as someone might take their romantic partner on a business trip.

The attorney said many people - whether women, artists, or business partners - waited for Kelly before being "blessed" with his presence because he was "in demand."

"It's not a crime," Cannick said. "When you're a hot commodity, you're a hot commodity."

He also sought to explain away a semen-stained T-shirt prosecutors brought to corroborate an accusation from Jerhonda Pace, who said Kelly repeatedly sexually abused her.

Cannick called Pace "a super-hustler" and "a stalker extrordenaire." He suggested Pace obtained the T-shirt on a later date by climbing over a 20-foot gate to sneak into Kelly's suburban Chicago home and spirit it away to hand over to federal agents years later.

Throughout his closing arguments, Cannick sought to portray prosecutors as overreaching in charging Kelly with sex crimes, saying they had distorted consensual relationships and encouraged accusers to lie about their experiences.

"Getting R. Kelly would be a big deal, " he told jurors. "But a bigger deal would be fairness."

Prosecutors accused Kelly's lawyer of trying to gaslight the jury

In rebuttal Thursday afternoon - which is scheduled to continue through Friday morning - Assistant US Attorney Nadia Shihata blasted Cannick's characterization of the evidence, saying it amounted to victim-blaming.

"It's as if we took a time machine to a courthouse back in the 1950s," Shihata said. "What they're basically arguing is that all these women and girls were asking for it, and that they deserved what they got."

She said the "nice" side the singer presented - like gifts and nice dinners - served to enforce the abusive dynamics of his relationships with young women. She pointed to the recordings of Kelly hitting women, saying they show he did not "treat women like gold."

"These are images the defendant would like you to forget, but I'm pretty sure you never will," Shihata said.

Shihata pleaded for jurors to listen to the accusers, who she said "relived some of the worst periods of their lives" for the trial." And she directed jurors to the corroborating evidence prosecutors presented, including contemporaneous text messages, testimony from other witnesses, and documents.

"Don't let them gaslight you," Shihata told the jurors.

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