R. Kelly trial goes to jurors as deliberations begin
CHICAGO - The federal case in Chicago against R&B superstar R. Kelly is now in the hands of a jury at the end of a month-long trial.
Jurors left the courtroom to begin deliberations at 1:04 p.m.
The deliberations follow about three hours of closing arguments Tuesday, which ended with the final word from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng. She reminded jurors of the alleged victims in the case, known in court as Jane, Pauline, Tracy, Nia and Brittany.
"They were children when [Kelly] engaged them in threesomes," Appenteng said. "Find Robert Kelly guilty of sexually abusing these young women. Find him guilty of sexually abusing Jane. And for recording himself sexually abusing her over and over again as you saw."
Kelly could be seen softly shaking his head as the prosecutor finished her presentation.
Kelly’s lawyer began her closing argument earlier Tuesday by reminding jurors of Kelly’s humble beginnings as "a young, shy, introverted kid who had a dream to make it in the music industry" — and was not ready for the success he achieved.
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Pointing to Kelly’s 1990s anthem "I Believe I Can Fly," attorney Jennifer Bonjean told jurors that "no matter what you ultimately decide in the jury room, this man did some beautiful things when it came to making music."
"And he should not be stripped of every bit of humanity that he has," Bonjean said.
She also told jurors that Kelly should have had the benefit of a pseudonym, like the alleged victims who testified in his trial over the last month at Chicago’s Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Bonjean said a pseudonym would remind jurors "that the lens through which you need to look at this evidence is as if he is a John Doe. Just anyone else. Not Robert Kelly. Not R. Kelly."
Appenteng’s argument followed Bonjean’s. The prosecutor quoted testimony that "R. Kelly had to have what he wanted."
"What R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls," Appenteng said.
The case against Kelly largely revolves around an alleged victim known to jurors as "Jane." A notorious video allegedly depicting Kelly’s abuse of Jane surfaced in the 2000s and became central to Kelly’s earlier state-court trial in 2008.
The feds have accused Kelly of rigging that trial, at which he was acquitted, in part by intimidating Jane and her family into lying to authorities.
The video from the 2008 trial, as well as three others, are now central to Kelly’s current trial.
Bonjean argued that Jane’s family made a choice when they learned about that apparent relationship when Jane was 17. She is now in her late 30s.
"She was 17 years old," Bonjean said. "And they did not care that she was having a relationship, at that point, with Mr. Kelly."
"For all the fist pounding and outrage, that family made a decision that they wanted to make at that time," Bonjean continued. "And they lived with that decision … From that decision evolved a friendship that lasted decades."
Bonjean encouraged jurors to acquit Kelly across the board, questioning whether the feds had also proven Kelly’s abuse of four additional accusers, Tracy, Pauline, Nia and Brittany.
But she acknowledged that the first three counts of Kelly’s indictment, in which he is accused of making video recordings of his sexual abuse of Jane, are the "most difficult and serious" in the indictment.
The defense attorney focused on technical points in the charge.
"Was his purpose to create child pornography?" Bonjean asked.
She also questioned whether the videos crossed state lines.
Appenteng later said that Bonjean "left alone any argument about whether it was Jane or whether it was Mr. Kelly on that tape."
"Use Jane as your base and as your guide," Appenteng said. "Everything happened to her in this case. From beginning to end. Kelly’s sexual abuse of her is clear."
Jurors also heard closing arguments Monday from the government and Kelly’s two co-defendants, former business manager Derrel McDavid and former assistant Milton "June" Brown.
Laying out the case against Kelly then, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo described the trio as a "team" that worked together to hide Kelly’s sexual abuse of underage girls for decades.
"They did their level best … to cover up the fact that Robert Kelly, R. Kelly the R&B superstar, is actually a sexual predator," Pozolo said.
She pointed to the government’s strongest evidence against the singer: video that purportedly shows the singer performing sex acts with Jane, whom Kelly considered his unofficial goddaughter.
"They did their best, but in the end, they failed," 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."
Testimony in the trial spanned four weeks, with Jane herself taking the witness stand to testify that she and her parents for years had lied about sexual abuse by the singer, including false statements made to Chicago police investigators and a state grand jury, which, nonetheless indicted the singer in 2002. Jane did not testify when the singer went to trial in 2008, and he was acquitted by a Cook County jury.
During her testimony, Jane identified herself in videos that purportedly show her abuse by the singer, including a tape in which Kelly and Jane could be heard referring repeatedly to her age as they perform sex acts in the late 1990s.
Monday, McDavid’s lawyers — as they did during the accountant’s three days on the witness stand — attacked the credibility of prosecution witnesses who had admitted to taking cash bounties to conceal alleged child porn videos. McDavid testified he believed the singer’s denials at the time.
"The information he had then is just different than what he had now," McDavid’s attorney, Beau Brindley said.