U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly instructs the jury in R.Kelly’s sex abuse trial at Brooklyn’s Federal District Court in a courtroom sketch in New York, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
September 24, 2021
By Tyler Clifford and Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – R. Kelly’s fate on Friday was in the hands of a Brooklyn jury, which began deliberating whether to convict or acquit the R&B superstar on sex trafficking charges.
Deliberations by the seven-man, five-woman jury began around 1:40 p.m. EDT (1740 GMT) after a federal prosecutor concluded her closing remarks, and U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly instructed jurors on the law.
Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning smash “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly, 54, had been trailed by sexual abuse accusations for much of his career before being charged in New York with nine criminal counts, including a broad racketeering charge.
Prosecutors have tried to portray Kelly as a short-tempered, violent predator who used his fame and charisma to draw women and underage girls into his orbit, where he would subject them to physical and sexual abuse, including unwanted intercourse.
Several accusers testified that Kelly forced them to abide by strict rules or else face punishment, and write “apology letters” designed to absolve him of blame.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers have tried to portray his accusers as liars eager to cash in by denigrating the singer out of spite, because their relationships did not work out or Kelly was not a springboard for their careers.
During his closing argument on Thursday, Kelly’s lawyer Deveraux Cannick invoked civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr by urging jurors to summon the courage to treat Kelly fairly, as he said Kelly did to those around him – “like gold,” Cannick said.
In her rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Shihata rejected the defense suggestion that Kelly’s accusers were “groupies” or “gold diggers.”
She also said topping the music charts and traveling the world did not give Kelly a license to break the law.
“Throughout this trial you have seen how the defendant is basically a control freak,” Shihata said. “The defendant is not the victim here.”
Kelly’s trial began on Aug. 18. He did not testify in his own defense, which is his right.
Even if he is acquitted, Kelly still faces federal charges in Chicago on child pornography and obstruction, and state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.
(Reporting by Tyler Clifford and Luc Cohen in New York; Writing by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)