R. Kelly watches as Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes speaks during his sex abuse trial at Brooklyn’s Federal District Court in a courtroom sketch in New York, U.S., September 20, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
September 20, 2021
By Tyler Clifford
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Monday rested their sex trafficking case against R. Kelly, after a month of often disturbing and graphic testimony from people who accused the R&B singer of sexually abusing women and girls.
The prosecution’s case in Brooklyn federal court concluded with testimony from a clinical psychologist who had taken the stand on Friday.
Kelly’s lawyer Calvin Scholar began the defense with a musical artist who said he has known the singer since about 2005, viewing him as a mentor who would let him “observe, learn and become,” and had never seen illicit activity toward the alleged victims.
The witness, who performs under the name Da-Ni, also said he was never asked by Kelly to have sex with Kelly’s girlfriends.
A prosecutor, Maria Cruz Melendez, tried on cross-examination to show the witness was not that close to Kelly and wanted to stay on Kelly’s good side to advance his own music career, which never materialized.
Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has pleaded not guilty to one count of racketeering and eight counts of illegally transporting people across state lines for prostitution.
Prosecutors have accused the 54-year-old Kelly of grooming and preying on women and girls as far back as the mid-1990s, when his music including the 1996 Grammy-winning song “I Believe I Can Fly” propelled him to fame.
His alleged victims include the singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when Kelly married her illegally in 1994. The marriage was later annulled, and Aaliyah died in a 2001 plane crash.
Since the trial began on Aug. 18, jurors have heard testimony from dozens of women and former employees who said Kelly maintained tightfisted control over his entourage.
Several witnesses have said Kelly became angry if people broke “Rob’s rules,” such as needing permission to go to the bathroom or talk with others, and pressed accusers to write “apology letters” to potentially absolve him from wrongdoing.
Witnesses have accused Kelly of failing to tell them prior to intercourse that he had the sexually transmitted disease herpes.
Defense lawyers have tried to portray Kelly’s accusers as fans who felt jilted after being unable to capitalize on the singer’s fame.
They have also questioned why accusers and former employees failed to leave Kelly sooner or go to the police, and waited years to come forward.
A half-dozen witnesses may testify for the defense.
Scrutiny of Kelly increased after the #MeToo movement began in late 2017, and Lifetime aired the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” in January 2019.
Kelly still faces sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota, regardless of the outcome of the Brooklyn trial.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)