Jury deliberating after 8 hours of closing arguments

For the third time in his life, Chicago-born R&B superstar R. Kelly is waiting for a jury to decide his fate.

Acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, Kelly, 55, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy last year in New York federal court and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Now, a federal jury in his hometown is deliberating another indictment, 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 conspiring to obstruct Justice.

Also charged are Kelly’s former associates Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, who are charged 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 five-man, seven-woman panel was excused Tuesday night after deliberating for less than four hours without reaching a verdict, and is expected to return Wednesday morning to continue its discussions.

The jury began deliberating around 1 pm Tuesday after more than eight hours of closing arguments over two days.

Before deliberations began, Kelly’s attorney urged the jury in their closing argument to put aside any preconceived notions they might have about the singer and see “the humanity” in him as they deliberated on charges of child pornography and obstruction of the public. Justice.

Jennifer Bonjean began her final presentation to the jury by asking them to treat Kelly like a “John Doe” like some of his accusers have done, not like what they may have heard about him on the news or in the office.

“We really are asking the impossible of you, right? Put all of that aside and decide this case based solely on what was presented as evidence,” Bonjean said.

Bonjean told the jury that much of the “unflattering evidence” that has been presented about Kelly during the four-week trial has absolutely nothing to do with the charges, including allegations in lawsuits brought by a lawyer with a “business to sue R. Kelly.” ”, and mention of sexual videos involving backup dancers, the wife of a baseball player “and even a man”.

Bonjean said prosecutors are “ensuring” that the jury will rely on “sexual predator labels” rather than the actual evidence in the case, which relied on the testimony of liars and criminals and accusations that are “quarter of a century old.” of antiquity”.

“It is meant to make you lose your humanity to this man and prevent you from really examining this evidence,” Bonjean said. “They want you to put your hands up and say ‘Ahh, it’s R. Kelly. I want to go home and have dinner with my children. Let’s sign this guilty verdict.’”

Bonjean compared some of the witnesses in the case, many of whom received immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony, to finding a cockroach in the soup.

“You don’t throw the roach out and eat the soup,” Bonjean said. “You throw all the soup… There are too many cockroaches with these witnesses.”

However, in her rebuttal argument Tuesday, 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 filling your pockets. .

“What R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” Appenteng said. “And what the people around her wanted…they wanted to help her boss, even help her get her way.”

Appenteng accused McDavid of repeatedly lying under oath when he testified in his own defense last week that he believed Kelly’s denials about sexual abuse of minors.

McDavid conveniently “removed himself from situations” whenever he could have implicated him, Appenteng said, even denying traveling to Kansas City to help retrieve a sex tape of Kelly having a threesome with a minor and claiming he couldn’t watch the video. at the heart of Kelly’s 2008 trial, even though it was repeatedly shown on large public monitors in court.

He urged the jury not to accept “(McDavid’s) unbelievable fabricated story after the fact, in particular his claims that he was only following the instructions of Kelly’s criminal defense attorney Edward Genson, his entertainment attorney Gerald Margolis and detective private. Jack Palladino, all of them deceased.

“Don’t let him hide behind the alleged words of three dead men,” Appenteng said. “The time has come. Hold him accountable.”

As Appenteng criticized McDavid’s lack of credibility, his attorneys sat at the defense table shaking their heads. At one point, McDavid’s defense attorney, Beau Brindley, let out an exaggerated laugh.

Appenteng also said that the defense holding Kelly’s acquittal in that case as evidence of her innocence was a red herring because the conspiracy to prevent the alleged victim, Kelly’s goddaughter, known at trial as “Jane,” from cooperating with the police had worked. .

“That jury was swindled,” he said. “They were scammed by Robert Kelly and his fixers. The case was settled because Robert Kelly, Derrel McDavid and others caused Jane to lie to the grand jury and miss the trial.”

In his closing, Bonjean said prosecutors were actually “getting help from co-defendants” in this case. Attorneys for McDavid and Brown argued Monday that their clients did not know Kelly was sexually abusing “Jane” or other minors 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 he may have abused young women, but we didn’t know anything about it,” Bonjean said. “You can’t consider that.”

Instead, Bonjean suggested that Kelly was the one in the dark. She struggled with her own serious sexual abuse trauma on her way to becoming a superstar, she said, and was “someone who wasn’t fully equipped to handle everything that comes with it.”

“He had to rely on other people to run R. Kelly’s business,” Bonjean said. “And it was all business.”

As Bonjean spoke, Kelly clasped her hands together and looked toward the defense table. Sometimes her face mask would be placed under her chin, revealing a grim expression.

His argument was accompanied by a slide show emphasizing Bonjean’s points, including, memorably, a giant “Get Out of Jail Free” Monopoly card with witness Charles Freeman’s head stuck on the body of the cartoon inmate. .

And as Bonjean concluded, he showed a slide with an urgent reminder in all caps: “EVERY COUNT COUNTS!!!!”

Bonjean spent much of their nearly two-hour argument talking about Kelly’s relationship with Jane and her family, which continued well beyond her alleged abuse as a minor and was approved of by her parents.

“It’s an inconvenient reality for the government,” Bonjean said. “Lives are complex, and despite all the fist bumping and outrage, that family made a decision they had to live with at the time.”

Jane’s parents lied to the grand jury about their sexual relationship with the singer because “they didn’t care,” Bonjean said. “She was 17 years old and they didn’t care about her… They put up with it.”

Bonjean noted that when Lifetime’s documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” was coming out in early 2019, Kelly was repeatedly approached by Jane, but he never tried to influence her in any way. “She changed her phone number,” she said. “He stays silent about her. She this is the most selfless obstructing person 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 he called a racketeer and thief.

“She’s willing to frame men for, I don’t know, identity theft, sex trafficking. Apparently, there is no crime that this woman does not commit,” Bonjean said.

Bonjean noted that one of the alleged victims, Brittany, did not even testify, even though prosecutors told the jury in opening statements that they would hear from her.

“Britain! Who is Brittany? Where is Brittany? Bonjean yelled. We don’t know anything about her. … That’s greed. That’s greed on (prosecutors’) part, and it’s not right.”

Another alleged victim, Tracy, also lied, beginning by telling the jury that she was 16 when she met Kelly, when 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.

“Everyone wants to claim a threesome with Jane,” Bonjean said, noting that the allegation was not contained in his lawsuit against Kelly.

Regarding the other alleged victims, Bonjean mentioned the time it took to bring charges and the fact that the allegation was brought at the height of the #MeToo movement.

“Even though we are in the age of believing women, (and) I’m not opposed to that outside of the courtroom… there’s no place for that kind of mob thinking in a courtroom,” Bonjean said.

In rebuttal, Appenteng urged the jury to pay close attention to Jane’s testimony and videotapes of her abuse.

“You saw how (Kelly) was using her body, flipping her over, throwing her around like she was a rag doll,” says Appenteng. “That’s what this case is about.”

“Who is at the center of this case? Kelly’s victims,” ​​Appenteng said. “… They were children when she instructed them how to please them sexually.”

Across the room, Kelly shook her head slightly. Her left leg moved. She then lowered her head and shook it from side to side once more.

The arguments came as Kelly’s trial dragged into its fifth week at the Dirksen United States Courthouse. Jurors have heard from nearly three dozen witnesses since mid-August.

Towards the end of closing arguments on Monday, a juror informed authorities that he was having a panic attack and could not continue. Judge Harry Leinenweber fired her and replaced her with an alternate.

The arguments began Monday with a scathing and methodical presentation by prosecutors and a fire-and-brimstone statement on behalf of Kelly’s former business manager.

afternoon briefing

afternoon briefing

Daily

Top news picks from Chicago Tribune editors, delivered to your inbox every afternoon.

Prosecutors in the packed ceremonial courtroom began by reminding jurors of the strongest evidence against the singer: the multiple videos they saw showing Kelly sexually abusing her 14-year-old goddaughter, Jane.

“Kelly and her team did their 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,” said Assistant United States Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo.

“We are here today because those tapes that they hid for 20 years are no longer their secret. You’ve seen the tapes. You’ve seen what Kelly did to Jane.

Meanwhile, McDavid’s attorney told the jury in his closing argument that the prosecution was riddled with reasonable doubt and based on unreliable witnesses, and that McDavid had no way of knowing if Kelly was actually sexually abusing minors.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

Leave a Comment