R. Kelly’s defense attorney began her closing arguments Tuesday by asking jurors to do what she admitted was nearly impossible: Set aside preconceived notions about her client and determine the R&B star’s guilt or innocence on child pornography and obstruction charges based solely on the evidence presented during the five-week trial.
Following two days of closing arguments, the 12-person jury set to decide the fate of Kelly and his co-defendants were sent away to begin deliberations Tuesday afternoon.
As she made her case to jurors, Jennifer Bonjean noted that federal prosecutors had an enormous advantage at trial: Her client is a well-known celebrity and “chances are what you know about him and what you heard outside the courtroom is not favorable.”
“We are really asking the impossible of you right? To put that all aside,” Bonjean said. “You can think he’s the most amoral, unethical person on the planet, and that has nothing to do with whether the government has met its burden on the charged offenses.”
Kelly was charged in 2019 on allegations he sexually abused multiple minor girls and recorded some of those acts on video. Kelly’s former employees Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown are also charged with conspiring to conceal evidence to obstruct law enforcement leading up to the singer’s 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County.
In their own closing arguments Monday, federal prosecutors asserted Kelly used his fame and influence to take advantage of and sexually abuse minor girls, including his goddaughter, who testified under the pseudonym “Jane.” Kelly’s relationship with “Jane” was at the heart of that 2008 trial, in which he was ultimately acquitted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo on Monday walked jurors through the three illicit sex tapes Kelly allegedly recorded with “Jane,” which were shown during this trial over the last month, saying he repeatedly referred to Jane’s “14 year old” body parts, sexually abused her and urinated on the girl.
“Her abuse is forever memorialized,” Pozolo said, “because that’s what Robert Kelly does.”
Bonjean took aim at the government’s case Tuesday, suggesting key witnesses, among them Kelly’s ex-girlfriend Lisa Van Allen and Charles Freeman — a former merchandiser who claimed he was recruited to recover a missing sex tape of Kelly and an underage “Jane” — lied during their testimony at trial.
Addressing the obstruction charges, Bonjean claimed Kelly never made any false statements to a grand jury or to police, as he was never interviewed and never testified. She said Kelly also never forced “Jane” to lie under oath about their relationship. Instead, Bonjean argued, “Jane” testified she denied she’d had sex with Kelly because she was afraid of her parents finding out and wanted to protect Kelly.
Prosecutors alleged Kelly and his associates threatened “Jane” and her family to keep them from testifying in 2008, and paid them money to keep them from coming forward in the years afterward. Bonjean dismissed that idea, saying “Jane” maintained a friendly relationship with Kelly after the trial, and any money Kelly paid to her and her family was to help them out with rent or other needs, not to buy their silence.
In 2019, after the “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries premiered, “Jane” testified she reached out to Kelly, texting him, “I love you. Don’t let the devil win.”
“Not only is there no attempts to obstruct here, he’s barely responsive (to “Jane”),” Bonjean said. “He is the least obstructive person you’ve ever seen in these text messages, and this is when he should have been most worried.”
Bonjean also dismissed the claims of Kelly’s various accusers, arguing that they either lied in their testimony or misremembered events from more than two decades ago.
On the actual child pornography charges, Bonjean admitted the three videos shown to jurors — which allegedly depicted Kelly with an underage “Jane” — were sexual in nature. But she tasked jurors with determining their authenticity and whether the government proved the more “technical” aspects of those charges, including whether it was Kelly’s intent to create child pornography and whether the tapes were moved over state lines.
In her rebuttal arguments Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng claimed that once he became a celebrity, Kelly “had to have what he wanted,” and his co-defendants worked to make that happen.
“What R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” she said. “And what the people around him wanted, they wanted to help their boss in any way possible including helping him get away with it.”
Appenteng said there’s “no question” the tapes of Kelly allegedly sexually abusing “Jane” are authentic, and that each of Kelly’s accusers who testified did so to share “secrets they thought would never come to light.”
“Who wants to come to court to do that if it didn’t happen?” Appenteng asked.
After closing arguments concluded, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber issued instructions to jurors, who were sent away to begin deliberations just after 1 p.m.
Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson | [email protected] | (773) 509-5431