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R. Kelly's lawyer defends his strategy of attacking the singer's accusers: 'I don't even think it was a #MeToo issue'

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deveraux cannick r kelly trial
Defense attorney for R. Kelly, Deveraux Cannick leaves Brooklyn federal court on September 23, 2021. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
  • Defense lawyer Deveraux Cannick questioned the credibility of R. Kelly's accusers during his criminal trial.

  • Numerous women and two men testified that the singer sexually abused them. A jury ultimately convicted Kelly on all counts.

  • Cannick defended his tactics in an interview, claiming Kelly's relationships were consensual.

A defense lawyer for R. Kelly who tried to discredit nearly every accuser in the singer's sex crimes trial told Insider he still believes his client had consensual relationships with many of the witnesses who testified that he sexually abused them.

Last month R. Kelly - whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly - was convicted of racketeering, for essentially running a criminal organization to procure women for sex, and of violating the Mann Act, which forbids bringing people across state lines for illegal sex acts.

"These people were in relationships with him," the singer's lawyer, Deveraux Cannick, said. "And whatever you may have thought of that relationship, this was a relationship that they bought into, they consented, and these were long-standing relationships. I don't even think it was a #MeToo issue."

Many of the accusers who testified against Kelly said they met him when they were teenagers. Several testified that they met with the towering R&B figure with the expectation that he'd watch their auditions, and hoped he'd advance their music careers.

Gloria Allred, who represented three witnesses in the trial, told journalists after the verdict that Kelly's use of his fame and money to indoctrinate and punish his victims made him "the worst" sexual predator she has ever pursued.

"First, he used the power of a celebrity to recruit vulnerable underage girls for the purpose of sexually abusing them," the attorney said. "Second he used the power of his business enterprise, and many of his inner circle employees, to assist him and enable him in his plan."

As prosecutors questioned nine women and two men about sexual encounters with Kelly and their stories of abuse, Cannick was the person who had the task of raising questions about whether Kelly pursued those accusers - or they pursued Kelly.

Of the four people on Kelly's legal team, he appeared to do most of the work, cross-examining almost every witness prosecutors brought and conducting the direct examination of every defense witness.

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Defense lawyer Deveraux 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

Cannick told Insider his goal was to try to show jurors that the witnesses were not credible, arguing that prosecutors went after Kelly because of the attention brought from Lifetime's "Surviving R. Kelly" docuseries. Many of the people who accused Kelly of abuse in the documentary also testified against him in the trial.

According to Cannick, Kelly's relationships with his girlfriends, many of which he had simultaneously, were each independent of one another.

"They were basically stringing a bunch of independent relationships together," he said, adding: "I was hoping the jury would be strong enough to see the witnesses were not credible and it was not a credible case."

The jurors disagreed, finding Kelly guilty on all counts.

Cannick tried to discredit accusers who said Kelly sexually abused them

Cannick gave the defense team's closing statements, arguing that Kelly's love life may have been unusual, but not criminal. He invoked Martin Luther King Jr., paraphrasing "I've Been to the Mountaintop" in asking jurors to acquit Kelly.

"I do think that it takes a great deal of courage to tell the government that 'you're wrong,'" Cannick said. "And I think, what better example of that courage than Dr. King. He's my hero."

Judge Ann Donnelly, who oversaw the trial, stopped Cannick several times while he questioned witnesses, including on occasions when he tried to ask about statements they may have made on "Surviving R. Kelly."

According to Cannick, the defense lawyers couldn't use all the evidence they wanted to in the trial. He claimed that notes FBI agents took while interviewing accusers told more complicated, or contradictory, stories about Kelly's multiple "girlfriends." Jerhonda Pace had "no relationship" with the singer and was a mere "groupie," Cannick said, even as she testified under oath that she had a sexually abusive relationship with Kelly for nine months.

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Singer R. Kelly attends Brooklyn's Federal District Court during the start of his trial in New York, U.S., August 18, 2021 in a courtroom sketch. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Cannick alleged that the parents of another woman, who testified under a pseudonym, directed her to pursue Kelly. The woman testified that Kelly repeatedly sexually abused her over years, gave her herpes, made her eat feces on camera, and made her get an abortion - all while promising they had a future together.

While cross-examining the accuser, Cannick grilled her about whether she was "twerking" at the concert where she first met Kelly. He told Insider his questions were an attempt to demonstrate to the jury that Kelly wasn't preying on women, but that they pursued him as well.

"This was no targeting," Cannick told Insider. "People were trying to get his attention as much as he was trying to get their attention ... She was on the speaker dancing in that way to get his attention."

The verdict demonstrates that approach backfired: Jurors may have had a tough time viewing a wealthy international superstar on equal footing with his accusers, many of whom were teenagers when they entered relationships with Kelly.

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Jane Doe #5 is cross examined by Deveraux Cannick as she testifies during R. Kelly's sex abuse trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in New York, U.S., August 24, 2021 in a courtroom sketch. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

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

Kelly himself ultimately declined to testify in the case. Cannick told Insider that "a part of him really wanted to testify" before the singer decided against it.

Aside from Kelly's guilty verdict in New York, he faces a separate set of charges from federal prosecutors in Chicago, as well as state-level charges in Illinois and Minnesota. He's pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

Kelly plans to appeal the verdict against him and is "hopeful that an appellate court will see it the way we saw it," Cannick said.

"He was disappointed, but he knows that he gets to live for another day," Cannick said. "That's the verdict now. The process continues."

Read the original article on Insider

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