May 17, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

R. Kelly Trial Nears End, as Prosecutors Paint Portrait of a Predator

6 min read

R. Kelly was a predator who capitalized on his fame to prey on underage girls and boys and on women, a federal prosecutor said in her closing statements at Mr. Kelly’s federal trial in New York on Wednesday.

Mr. Kelly, once one of the brightest stars in pop music, was only able to inflict trauma on the lives of those in his orbit for decades because of a vast network of associates who “served as enablers for his criminal conduct,” the prosecutor, Elizabeth Geddes, said.

Those accusations have followed Mr. Kelly for decades. But now, Ms. Geddes said, jurors had an opportunity to make amends for years of overlooked abusive behavior.

“For many years, what happened in the defendant’s world stayed in the defendant’s world,” Ms. Geddes, an assistant U.S. attorney, told jurors in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. “But no longer.”

The summation offered a dramatic crescendo to the five-week trial, which has included hours of disturbing testimony from Mr. Kelly’s accusers, some of whom had never spoken publicly before. The singer, 54, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Ms. Geddes’s closing arguments, which spanned more than three hours and will continue on Thursday, illustrated the expansive breadth of the prosecution’s case against the singer — and the steep challenge his defense team has faced in the trial.

The racketeering case against Mr. Kelly is built around 14 underlying crimes that federal prosecutors say he committed as part of the criminal enterprise at his command. But the charge itself only requires that two of those crimes be proven.

On Wednesday, Ms. Geddes began to construct a final image of Mr. Kelly as a calculated manipulator who destroyed the lives of those around him.

She characterized the singer as a volatile man whose “violent temper” led to harsh physical abuse of many women and girls. She told jurors that he often promised visitors fame or success in their careers, while only intending to use them for sex. And she said that Mr. Kelly created a fear-inspiring system of control that entrapped his accusers and prevented them from speaking out.

“He used lies, manipulation, threats and physical abuse to dominate his victims,” Ms. Geddes said, adding that his immense wealth and fame allowed him to “hide in plain sight.”

When women “crossed him” and opted to go public with their allegations, Ms. Geddes said, Mr. Kelly “used his henchmen to lodge threats and exact revenge.”

Mr. Kelly was once revered in the realm of R&B music, garnering a huge fan base through the 1990s and 2000s and becoming known for redefining his genre. But for more than two decades, Mr. Kelly was trailed by accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse.

At the height of the Me Too movement, his behavior fell under intense scrutiny, and the accusations against him spilled into full public view in a jarring documentary.

In 2019, he was accused of serving as the kingpin of a decades-long criminal enterprise that recruited women and girls for sex. He has been in custody for most of the time since and faces nine counts of racketeering and violations of the Mann Act, a law that bans sex trafficking across state lines. He also faces charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

Armed with a large blackboard that showed Mr. Kelly near the center, surrounded by a network of associates, Ms. Geddes said that the singer’s inner circle and employees played crucial roles in his misconduct — including with the R&B star Aaliyah.

The singer, whom R. Kelly married when she was just 15, has figured prominently in the case — and in Ms. Geddes’s arguments. The federal prosecutor revisited trial testimony about how one of Mr. Kelly’s tour managers bribed a government employee to “protect” the singer after he came to believe Aaliyah was pregnant with his child.

Ms. Geddes said the reason for the marriage plot in 1994 was simple: He feared criminal prosecution and sought to compel Aaliyah to get an abortion.

“We all know what the defendant was thinking,” the federal prosector said. “No baby, no jail.”

Mr. Kelly’s defense team has contended that because the singer himself did not bribe the employee, the matter is moot. But Ms. Geddes argued that Mr. Kelly was not an oblivious bystander in the marriage plot, but rather the active force driving the criminal enterprise.

“Just because you have one of your henchmen do your dirty work doesn’t make you any less responsible,” she told jurors. She added: “The defendant’s pattern of sexual abuse of minors didn’t change after he wed Aaliyah. In fact, it didn’t skip a beat.”

Mr. Kelly was initially set to stand trial in May 2020, but the pandemic delayed the start date for 18 months. Amid the wait, some of the singer’s allies were accused of using arson, bribery and other intimidation tactics to silence witnesses who were expected to testify.

Still, over five weeks of testimony, nine women and two men took the stand and accused the singer of a host of disturbing behavior that often included physical, sexual and emotional abuse. And a supporting cast of 34 other witnesses — including their friends and family, the singer’s employees and one of his longtime doctors — served to bolster their accounts.

Mr. Kelly’s defense team will make its final arguments to the seven men and five women of the jury on Thursday. They are expected to focus a portion of their assertions around the nature of the racketeering case against the singer, aiming to spur doubt among jurors over whether a successful music business could have simultaneously functioned as a decades-long criminal scheme.

During their opening statements and across their cross-examinations in the case, his lawyers have also challenged the credibility and motivations of his accusers. The team has cast the accusers’ stories as manufactured or exaggerated, drawing emphasis to instances when they had received money for their participation in documentaries or book deals.

“We believe their testimony will crumble,” Nicole Blank Becker, one of Mr. Kelly’s four lawyers, told jurors. “There will be so many untruths told to you, ladies and gentlemen, that even the government won’t be able to untangle the mess of lies.”

U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly has said that she expects the jury to have the case by the end of the week.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Kelly declined to testify in his own defense. When the judge asked if he intended to take the stand, he responded with two words: “No, ma’am.”

Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Emily Palmer contributed reporting.

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