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NEW YORK — R. Kelly’s fate is now in the hands of the jury hearing his federal trial in New York.
After a six-week trial featuring the testimony of 50 witnesses and three days of closing arguments, jurors in the racketeering case against Chicago-born R&B star began their deliberations at about 12:40 p.m. Chicago time on Friday.
U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly took three hours to read through more than 80 pages of jury instructions before sending the panel of seven men and five women back to begin going through the 9-count indictment.
The judge has not publicly indicated how long she would let deliberations continue if no verdict has been reached by the end of the day.
Kelly, 54, was charged in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn in 2019 with heading a criminal enterprise that employed agents, runners, bodyguards and others to lure and trap girls and young women to satisfy his sexually predatory desires.
He faces decades in prison if convicted of the main racketeering charge, though the jury could decide to convict on lesser charges of kidnapping or violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits traveling over state lines for illegal sexual acts.
The trial featured the testimony of a number of alleged victims who told the jury that Kelly manipulated and controlled them and forced them to have sex with him and others — often on videotape.
In her final 45 minutes of rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Shihata urged the jury to look past the “nonsense” raised by the defense and see Kelly for what he is. “He’s not a genius, he’s a criminal, a predator who used his inner circle to commit crimes with impunity for decades.”
“For almost three decades (Kelly) believed that he was untouchable, a legend, a musical genius,” Shihata said. The money and fame led him to believe he could do whatever he wanted, she said, and “he still believes that today.”
She called Kelly a “control freak” and blasted the defense for referring to his alleged victims as conniving stalkers out for a payday. “The defendant’s victims aren’t groupies or gold-diggers, they are daughters, sisters, some of them are now mothers, and their lives matter,” Shihata said.
Shihata also ridiculed the notion raised by the defense that Kelly’s sexual exploits were completely legal and consensual.
“Having sex with underage Aaliyah isn’t a relationship, it’s a crime,’ Shihata said. “Causing money to be paid to a public employee for a fraudulent ID do you can marry a 15-year-old is bribery, and that’s a crime.”
Shihata ticked off a list of Kelly’s other alleged criminal acts: Videotaping sex with minors, knowingly exposing sexual partners to herpes without telling them, forcing minors to participate and star in pornographic videos, and recording a video of himself spanking one victim and forcing her to walk back and forth calling herself a “stupid bitch” because she’d violated his rules.
“That wasn’t role play, and that wasn’t consensual,” Shihata said, referring to the recording that was shown to the jury during the trial. “You saw it with your own eyes.”
Kelly, dressed in a gray suit and glasses, sat nearly motionless at the defense table during the rebuttal, staring straight ahead.
In his closing argument, Kelly’s attorney, Deveraux Cannick, said the singer was an international sex symbol known for his playboy lifestyle, but his relationships were consensual and the women who lined up to testify that he sexually abused them are lying to get a payday.
Pacing the floor of the of a Brooklyn federal courtroom and occasionally raising his voice to a shout, Cannick called one of the alleged victims a “super hustler” and a “stalker extraordinaire” and repeatedly accused the government of allowing witnesses to come in and lie to win the big prize.
“Getting a conviction of R. Kelly is a big deal,” Cannick said, telling jurors the government had fallen short. “They gotta try to bring home the bacon … But you can’t want it that bad. You really just can’t.”
In his nearly three-hour closing on Thursday, Cannick said Kelly treated his girlfriends “like gold,” showering them with shopping sprees, private parties, and “money galore.”
But in the years leading up to the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” the singer had become toxic, Cannick said. Radio stations stopped playing his songs, venues canceled his shows. When his fortunes tanked, so did his love life. Ultimately, the girls betrayed Kelly, telling lies to get book deals and lawsuits, Cannick said.
“His money dries up and they fly away,” he said. “And you know where they flew to: ‘Surviving R. Kelly.’”
Throughout the two days of arguments, a large poster board display has had been set up in the middle of Donnelly’s courtroom, which included a mug shot of Kelly in the center and various members of his ever-revolving entourage surrounding him.
To further his goal of recruiting girls for sex, Kelly depended on his team to keep victims in line, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes said in her closing argument, which stretched for 6 1/2 hours over two days. They helped keep them confined to rooms in his Olympia Fields mansion, handed out copies of Kelly’s bizarre “rules,” carried backpacks filled with iPads Kelly used to film sexual encounters, and even offered condoms to one victim before she went in to see Kelly, Geddes said.
On Thursday, Geddes spent more than two hours talking about the various tactics Kelly used to control his victims, including intimidation, physical abuse, isolation, and indoctrination by setting strict rules.
Geddes emphasized a video where Kelly was seen telling one victim, “Anna,” that she’d broken his rules and was about to get “four licks.” He then spanked her violently, and later ordered her to walk back and forth on video and call herself a “stupid (expletive),” according to Geddes.
“You saw the absolute anguish on Anna’s face as the defendant spanked her,” Geddes told the jury.
She also talked about the alleged abuse of “Jane,” an aspiring singer who testified Kelly brought her out to California for sex when she was 17 and he was 48.
“He was an accomplished R&B star. She was a junior in high school with dreams of being a singer,” Geddes said. “The power and balance was firmly in place from Day 1 One. And as you’ve learned, Kelly took full advantage.”
Geddes wrapped up her argument around midday Thursday, saying, “It is time to hold the defendant responsible for the pain that he inflicted on each of his victims,” listing the six women included in the main racketeering charge each by their first name. “Convict him.”
(Jason Meisner reported from New York and Megan Crepeau from Chicago.)