R. Kelly’s defense says accusers had motive to lie. ‘Convict him,’ prosecutor says

R. Kelly's trial continues in New York
Defense lawyer Devereaux Cannick presents his closing arguments in R. Kelly's sex abuse trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in a courtroom sketch in New York, U.S., September 23, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

September 23, 2021

By Tyler Clifford and Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – R. Kelly’s accusers were motivated by money to lie about his alleged sexual abuses, a lawyer for the R&B superstar argued on Thursday in a final effort to persuade jurors not to convict Kelly of sex trafficking charges.

In his closing argument in Brooklyn federal court, Kelly’s lawyer Deveraux Cannick portrayed the singer’s accusers as former fans or jilted lovers hoping to cash in on his fame, whether through book contracts or media appearances such as in “Surviving R. Kelly,” the 2019 Lifetime documentary.

“They’re monetizing. They know what the game is. They’re surviving off of R. Kelly,” Cannick said, invoking the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr as he implored jurors to summon what he called the courage to acquit the 54-year-old singer.

Cannick spoke after Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes finished her closing argument, which lasted about six hours spread over two days.

Geddes reviewed testimony from dozens of accusers, former employees and others against the singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, including that he videotaped his exploits and hid his herpes diagnosis prior to intercourse.

“It is time to hold the defendant responsible for the pain he inflicted on each of his victims,” Geddes concluded, repeating the name of each accuser. “It is now time for the defendant Robert Kelly to pay for his crimes. Convict him.”

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning smash “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly pleaded not guilty to one count of racketeering and eight counts of illegally transporting people across state lines for prostitution in a trial that began on Aug. 18.

Prosecutors have portrayed Kelly as a violent predator who used his fame and charisma and deployed people who worked for him to lure women and underage girls into his sphere.

Kelly is one of the most prominent people tried for sexual misconduct during the #MeToo movement, and has for many years denied sexual abuse accusations.

His alleged victims include the late singer Aaliyah, who died in a 2001 plane crash.

Jury deliberations may begin on Friday, after U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly instructs jurors on the law.

MIXED EMOTIONS

Wearing black glasses, Kelly had different reactions as he listened to closing arguments.

He hung his head after Geddes said one associate had copied him on a threatening email to a victim, but later leaned forward and focused intensely on Cannick as his lawyer described his accusers’ testimony as “just like butter, fluid.”

Cannick accused prosecutors of trying to turn everything Kelly did into a crime, when in fact he treated them “like gold” and took them on shopping sprees that cost more than cars.

He dismissed Jerhonda Pace, the first accuser to testify against Kelly, as a “groupie, stalker extraordinaire,” and said Kelly’s use of nondisclosure agreements was common in the entertainment industry because many people are targets.

Cannick also invoked the civil rights movement and King’s 1968 assassination to try to persuade jurors to hold prosecutors accountable for failing to prove Kelly’s guilt.

“I told you about Dr. King and the people of courage for a reason,” Cannick said. “Getting a conviction of R. Kelly is a big deal, but a bigger deal is fairness.”

He urged jurors to use their common sense. “Somebody’s life is at stake here,” he said.

Kelly did not testify in his own defense, which could have exposed him to days of tough questioning from prosecutors.

He faces separate criminal charges in federal court in Chicago, and state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)