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Chicago federal jury begins deliberations in R. Kelly trial

A month after the former R&B star’s latest trial began, the jury is now deciding on the 13 criminal charges he faces.

CHICAGO (CN) — Jurors in R. Kelly's second federal trial entered deliberations Tuesday, concluding a month of evidence and witness testimony and over nine hours of closing arguments.

The jury will now consider the 13 criminal charges Kelly faces in Chicago, related to child porn, various sex crimes and an alleged conspiracy to cover those crimes up.

Kelly's co-defendants Derrel McDavid, his former manager, and Milton Brown, his former personal assistant, also face four and one conspiracy counts, respectively.

Tuesday began with Kelly's lead defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean delivering her closing statements. Federal prosecutors and the attorneys for Kelly's co-defendants all gave their own closing arguments on Monday, with the court day ending before Bonjean could present hers.

Bonjean also moved twice for mistrial on Monday, arguing that McDavid and Brown's attorneys tried to establish their clients' innocence by implying Kelly's guilt.

"Repeatedly the implication was, if [McDavid] knew then what he knew now, it would be different," Bonjean said, adding later, "I come into this trial with three parties that are saying, 'yeah, R. Kelly is guilty.'"

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, a Ronald Reagan appointee, denied both motions, but agreed to begin trial an hour earlier than usual on Tuesday to allow Bonjean enough time to address all her concerns in closing arguments.

The major theme of Bonjean's closings was that the government's witnesses were untrustworthy – motivated by deals with the Northern Illinois U.S. Attorney's Office at best, outright liars at worst. She likened the government's case to cockroaches in a bowl of soup.

"When you find a cockroach in your soup, you don't just throw out the cockroach and eat the rest of the soup," Bonjean said, adding the government's case had "too many cockroaches" in it.

Bonjean proceeded to remind the jury of several points over the course of the trial where she was able to show inconsistencies in government witnesses' testimonies.

R. Kelly's defense attorneys, Jennifer Bonjean, left, and Ashley Cohen, walk into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

For example, an R. Kelly accuser known by the pseudonym Tracy initially testified that she was sexually assaulted by the singer after meeting him at a Black Women's Expo in 1999, when she was 16. Bonjean was subsequently able to demonstrate, via the testimony of organizers of the event and a civil lawsuit Tracy herself levied against Kelly in 2001, that the expo didn't occur until 2000, when Tracy was 17 - the legal age of consent in Illinois.

Prosecutors put Tracy on the stand, Bonjean told the jury, "to lie to you all."

Bonjean characterized Tracy as a "pathological liar," and made similar comments about government witnesses Lisa Van Allen and Charles Freeman.

Both claimed to have had a tape featuring Kelly engaged in sex acts with a then-underage girl referred to as Jane at different points in time. Van Allen, Kelly's ex-girlfriend, says she secretly took the tape from Kelly's duffel bag in Chicago in 2002. Freeman claims to have recovered another tape from a house in Atlanta in 2007. Freeman additionally alleged that he recovered this tape on the orders of McDavid and deceased private investigator Jack Palladino.

Bonjean had harsh words for both them on Tuesday, calling Freeman a "lowlife" and Van Allen a "thief."

"People who steal are typically not the most truthful people in the world," she said.

The attorney concluded her arguments by reminding the jury that they never heard from a woman referred to as Brittany, another Kelly accuser who allegedly had underage threesomes with him, Jane and another girl going by the pseudonym Pauline. The prosecution said in opening arguments a month ago that Brittany would testify but she never did, and her absence was never explained.

"Brittany, who is Brittany?" Bonjean asked.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng delivered the government's rebuttal, repeating many of the same points prosecutor Elizabeth Pozolo went over Monday in her closing arguments. Appenteng claimed the government had proven Kelly sexually preyed upon then-underage girls in the late 1990s and early aughts, including by recording himself engaging in sex acts with a 14-year-old Jane in 1998. She also reminded the jury that 18, not 17, is the federal age of consent.

"Mr. Kelly had to have what he wanted. Those are the words of that man, Derrel McDavid... and what R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls," she said.

Like Bonjean, she referenced that the attorneys for McDavid and Brown seemed to imply Kelly's guilt in their closing arguments, when they said their clients were just Kelly's employees unaware of his sexual misconduct. This was a "distraction," Appenteng said. She told the jury to consider that Kelly, by McDavid's own admission, was functionally illiterate. She said he would have been incapable of managing as large a career crisis as a child porn scandal by himself.

"There's no question that as of 2002... that Mr. McDavid knows the truth of [Kelly's] relationship with Jane," Appenteng said.

Addressing the topic of Brittany, Appenteng said only that the testimony provided by Pauline and Jane should be sufficient. Both women claimed to have been childhood friends with Brittany, and that they had threesomes with her and Kelly before turning 18.

After Appenteng finished her closing arguments, Leinenweber read the jury their instructions and dismissed them to begin deliberations. With so many charges to consider against three separate defendants, it is unknown how long it will take the jury to return their verdicts.

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