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R. Kelly prosecutors begin closing arguments in federal sex crimes trial

After more than a month of testimony, federal prosecutors began their closing arguments on Wednesday in the trial against R&B singer R. Kelly, who faces potential decades in prison. 

BROOKLYN (CN) — After more than a month of testimony, federal prosecutors began their closing arguments on Wednesday in the trial against R&B singer R. Kelly, who faces potential decades in prison. 

Sex abuse allegations have circled Kelly, 54, for decades. The “Ignition: Remix” singer was acquitted on child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008. His prosecution in federal court in Brooklyn came in the wake of the #MeToo movement and a Lifetime documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” in which accusers described a pattern of physical and sexual abuse, coercion and control. 

Following the trial’s Aug. 18 start, prosecutors called 45 witnesses, including employees and accusers who described how Kelly’s inner circle of managers, assistants and “runners” would help him recruit women into an alleged sex ring that lasted for nearly three decades. 

“For over 25 years the defendant used his fame, his popularity and the network of people at his disposal to groom and exploit girls, boys, and young women for his own sexual gratification,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes during closing arguments on Wednesday, mirroring her colleague’s remarks during opening arguments

Kelly is charged in the Eastern District of New York with one racketeering and eight Mann Act counts, which allege coercion, kidnapping and transportation of minors to engage in sexual activity. The once chart-topping singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, is also accused of knowingly giving victims herpes — despite his doctor ordering him to disclose the diagnosis to partners and to use protection, according to his testimony. Four accusers who testified at trial said they got herpes from the singer, who declined to use a condom. 

The top count, a racketeering charge with 14 associated acts, carries a potential sentence of 20 years in prison. 

Geddes noted in her opening that although Kelly’s employees did legitimate work for him, like promoting his music and his brand, they also furthered his crimes — and the enterprise alleged by the government does not need to be criminal in nature in order to get a racketeering conviction. 

“When someone commits a crime as part of a group, he’s more powerful, more dangerous,” Geddes said. “The defendant was more than just part of the enterprise: He was its leader.” 

Drivers, runners and security were instrumental to the alleged sex ring, Geddes argued. 

“The defendant was able to carry out the racketeering acts … because he had the enterprise at his disposal to help him do it,” she said. “The defendant set rules — lots of rules — and he demanded absolute obedience.” 

Through confidentiality agreements and by fining his employees, as several testified, Geddes said Kelly was able to control his staff — as well as his live-in girlfriends, who said they had to ask Kelly or his employees’ permission before eating or using the bathroom, wear baggy clothes and avoid eye contact with other men. 

Employees “turned a blind eye” to the abusive dynamics, and “stood watch” over the women and girls under Kelly’s control, Geddes said. 

In the first portion of her opening arguments, Geddes began a rundown of the charges against Kelly, starting with the first half of the racketeering acts nested within the count. 

Kelly’s indictment lists six Jane Doe victims. All of them testified except for the late singer Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in August 2001. Kelly is charged with bribing a public official to get a fake ID for Aaliyah, whose full name is Aaliyah Haughton, so he could marry her when she was just 15 years old and Kelly, who believed the young girl was pregnant with his child, was 27. 

A woman who began living with Kelly when she was 17 years old, who testified as Jane, told the court that Kelly had once confessed to his live-in girlfriends that he wanted to marry Haughton in order to get her an abortion. (Jane said she was also forced by the singer to have an abortion.) 

“We all know what the defendant was thinking: no baby, no jail,” said Geddes, noting that Haughton was “barely a teenager” and too young to consent to having sex with Kelly. 

Several witnesses said the wedding ceremony, during which Kelly and Haughton wore matching sweatsuits, took place in a 10- to 15-minute ceremony in a hotel suite near the Chicago O’Hare Airport.

Kelly then went back on tour. Days later, he raped another minor — then-17-year-old Addie — backstage at a “Budweiser Superfest” concert in Miami, according to Addie’s court testimony

“It didn’t change after he married Aaliyah,” Geddes said. “In fact, he didn’t skip a beat.” 

Closing arguments will continue on Thursday. In order to reach a racketeering conviction, the jury will need to find that Kelly committed at least 2 of the 14 acts alleged.

Follow @NinaPullano
Categories / Criminal, Entertainment, Trials

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