For the third time in his life, Chicago-born R&B superstar R. Kelly is waiting on a jury to decide his fate.
Acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, Kelly, 55, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy last year in federal court in New York and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Now, a federal jury in his hometown is deliberating yet another indictment, this one charging the disgraced “I Believe I Can Fly” singer with 13 counts of producing and receiving child pornography, enticing minors to engage in criminal sexual activity, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Also charged are former Kelly associates Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, who are accused in an alleged scheme to buy back incriminating sex tapes that had been taken from Kelly’s collection and to hide years of alleged sexual abuse.
The panel of five men and seven women were excused Tuesday evening after deliberating less than four hours without reaching a verdict, and are expected to return Wednesday morning to continue their discussions.
The jury began deliberating about 1 pm Tuesday after more than eight hours of closing arguments over two days.
Before deliberations began, Kelly’s attorney urged the jury in her closing argument to put aside any preconceived notions they may have about the singer and see “the humanity” in him when deliberating charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice.
Jennifer Bonjean began her final presentation to the jury by asking them to treat Kelly like a “John Doe,” as some of his accusers have been, not what they may have heard about him in the news or at the office.
“We are really asking the impossible of you, right? To put all that aside and decide this case based only on what was put into evidence,” Bonjean said.
Bonjean told the jury that much of the “unflattering evidence” that has been presented about Kelly over the four-week trial has absolutely nothing to do with the charges, including accusations in lawsuits brought by an attorney with an “industry of suing R. Kelly ,” and mention of sex tapes involving backup dancers, a baseball player’s wife “and even a man.”
Bonjean said prosecutors are “banking” that the jury will rely on “labels like sex predator” instead of the actual evidence in the case, which was built on the testimony of liars and criminals and accusations that “are a quarter-century old.”
“It’s meant for you to lose your humanity for this man and prevent you from really scrutinizing this evidence,” Bonjean said. “They want you to throw up your hands and say ‘Ahh, it’s R. Kelly. I want to go home and have dinner with my kids. Let’s just sign this guilty verdict.’”
Bonjean likened some of the witnesses in the case, many of whom received immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony, to finding a cockroach in your soup.
“You don’t just toss the roach and eat the soup,” Bonjean said. “You throw out the whole soup… There are just too many cockroaches with these witnesses.”
In her rebuttal argument Tuesday, however, Assistant US Attorney Jeannice Appenteng said the evidence was clear that Kelly was a serial sexual predator and that his co-defendants made the decision to help him hide it to keep his career intact and keep lining their own pockets .
“What R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” Appenteng said. “And what the people around him wanted… they wanted to help their boss, including helping him get away with it.”
Appenteng accused McDavid of repeatedly lying under oath when he testified in his own defense last week that he believed Kelly’s denials about sexually abusing minors.
McDavid conveniently took himself “out of the situations” whenever it may have implicated him, Appenteng said, including denying he traveled to Kansas City to help retrieve a sex tape of Kelly having a threesome with a minor and claiming that he couldn’t see the video at the heart of Kelly’s 2008 trial — even though it was shown repeatedly on large public monitors in court.
She urged the jury not to accept “(McDavid’s) incredible, after-the-fact, concocted story,” particularly his claims that he was just following the direction of Kelly’s criminal defense attorney, Edward Genson, his entertainment lawyer Gerald Margolis and private detective Jack Palladino — all of whom are deceased.
“Do not let him hide behind the supposed words of three dead men,” Appenteng said. “The time has come. Hold him accountable.”
While Appenteng railed against McDavid’s lack of credibility, his lawyers sat at the defense table shaking their heads. At one point, McDavid’s defense attorney Beau Brindley gave an exaggerated chuckle.
Appenteng also said that the defense holding up Kelly’s acquittal in that case as proof of their innocence was a red herring because the conspiracy to keep the alleged victim, Kelly’s goddaughter, known in the trial as “Jane,” from cooperating with law enforcement had worked .
“That jury was scammed,” she said. “They were scammed by Robert Kelly and his fixers. The case was fixed because Robert Kelly, Derrel McDavid and others caused Jane to lie to the grand jury and be absent from trial.”
In her closing, Bonjean said prosecutors were actually “getting some help from the co-defendants” in this case. Lawyers for both McDavid and Brown argued on Monday that their clients were unaware that Kelly was sexually abusing “Jane,” or other minors back in the 1990s and 2000s.
“In various ways throughout this trial there has been this undercurrent of, ‘Well, R. Kelly may have abused “Jane” or may have abused young women, but we didn’t know anything about it,” Bonjean said. “You cannot consider that.”
Instead, Bonjean suggested Kelly was the one who was in the dark. He struggled with his own serious sexual abuse trauma on his way to becoming a superstar, she said, and was “someone who was entirely unequipped to handle all that comes with it.”
“He had to rely on other people to handle the business of R. Kelly,” Bonjean said. “And it was quite a business.”
As Bonjean spoke, Kelly clasped his hands and looked down at the defense table. At times, his face mask was pulled under his chin, revealing a somber expression.
Her argument was accompanied by a slideshow emphasizing Bonjean’s points — including, memorably, a giant “Get Out Of Jail Free” Monopoly card with witness Charles Freeman’s head pasted on the body of the cartoon jailbird.
And as Bonjean concluded, she displayed a slide with an urgent reminder in all caps: “EVERY COUNT COUNTS!!!!”
Bonjean spent a lot of her nearly two-hour argument talking about Kelly’s relationship with Jane and her family, which continued far beyond her alleged abuse as a minor and was approved by her parents.
“It is an inconvenient reality for the government,” Bonjean said. “Lives are complex, and for all the fist pounding and the outrage, that family made a decision that they had to live with at that time.”
Jane’s parents lied to the grand jury about her sexual relationship with the singer because “they didn’t care,” Bonjean said. “She was 17 and they didn’t care… They condoned it.”
Bonjean noted that when the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” was coming out in early 2019, Jane repeatedly reached out to Kelly but he never tried to influence her in any way. “He changed his phone number,” she said. “He goes silent on her. This is the most disinterested person in obstructing that I have ever seen.”
Bonjean also painted many of the women who accused Kelly of sexual misdeeds as liars and opportunists, particularly Lisa Van Allen, whom she called an extortionist and a thief.
“She is willing to frame men, for I don’t know, identity theft, sex trafficking. There is no crime apparently this woman won’t commit,” Bonjean said.
Bonjean noted that one of the alleged victims, Brittany, never even testified, even though prosecutors told jurors in opening statements they’d hear from her.
“Brittany! Who is Brittany? Where is Brittany?” Bonjean shouted. “We don’t know anything about her. … That’s greed. That’s greediness on (prosecutors’) part, and it is not proper.”
Another alleged victim, Tracy, was also a liar, beginning with telling jurors she was 16 when she met Kelly, when the evidence showed she was 17, Bonjean said. Tracy also testified that Kelly forced her to have a threesome with Jane — which Bonjean suggested was false.
“Everybody wants to claim a threesome with Jane,” Bonjean said, noting that the allegation was not contained in her lawsuit against Kelly.
Regarding the other alleged victims, Bonjean brought up the length of time it took to bring charges, and the fact that the indictment was filed at the height of the #MeToo movement.
“Even though we are in the era of believing women, (and) I don’t quarrel with that outside the courtroom… there is no place for that sort of mob-like thinking in a courtroom,” Bonjean said.
In rebuttal, Appenteng urged the jury to pay special attention to Jane’s testimony and the videotapes of her abuse.
“You saw how (Kelly) was using her body, flipping her over, throwing her around like she was some rag doll,” Appenteng says. “That’s what this case is about.”
“Who is at the center of this case? Kelly’s victims,” Appenteng said. “… They were children when he instructed them how to please them sexually.”
Across the room, Kelly shook his head slightly. His left leg fidgeted. Then he hung his head, and shook it back and forth once more.
The arguments came as Kelly’s trial has stretched into its fifth week at the Dirksen US Courthouse. Jurors have heard from nearly three dozen witnesses since mid August.
Towards the end of Monday’s closing arguments, one juror informed authorities that she was having a panic attack and she could not continue. Judge Harry Leinenweber dismissed her and replaced her with an alternate.
The arguments began Monday with a scathingly methodical presentation from prosecutors and a fire-and-brimstone statement on behalf of Kelly’s former business manager.
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Prosecutors in the packed ceremonial courtroom started by reminding jurors of their strongest evidence against the singer: The multiple videos they viewed showing Kelly sexually abusing his 14-year-old goddaughter, Jane.
“Kelly and his team, they did their level best… to cover up the fact that Robert Kelly, R. Kelly the R&B superstar, is actually a sexual predator. They did their best, but in the end, they failed,” Assistant US Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo said.
“We are here today because those tapes that they concealed for 20 years are no longer their secret. You have seen the tapes. You have seen what Kelly did to Jane.”
Meanwhile, the attorney for McDavid told jurors in his closing argument that the prosecution was riddled with reasonable doubt and based on untrustworthy witnesses, and that McDavid had no way of knowing whether Kelly was really sexually abusing minors.