Decades after the first troubling allegations surfaced that R. Kelly had used his fame to have sex with teenage girls, and two years after a pair of indictments put him behind bars to await trial, the world of the Chicago-born superstar finally changed with his conviction Monday.
And that means the verdict from a federal jury in Brooklyn could be the first domino to fall as the singer/songwriter who rose from the South Side confronts the massive amount of legal jeopardy he still faces in Chicago’s federal court, Cook County and in Minnesota.
“Obviously, this is a huge setback for R. Kelly, and it changes the entire landscape for him,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said. “At this point, he really has to be thinking about what I’ll call a ‘global resolution.’”
In other words, how might the 54-year-old Kelly best deal with multiple criminal charges still hanging over his head?
Kelly will confront that question after a roughly five-week trial featuring 45 government witnesses — including several victims — that ended with the singer facing 10 years to life in prison. The remaining federal case in Chicago, where he is charged with child pornography and obstruction of justice, is just as perilous.
Complicating matters are his two co-defendants here, former employees Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown. McDavid’s lawyers have complained about being “at the mercy of Mr. Kelly’s problems” and insist they want to go to trial.
Then there’s the aggravated criminal sexual abuse charges from prosecutors in Cook County, as well as an additional criminal case in Minnesota. It all amounts to a daunting amount of legal trouble for the man who rose from Hyde Park’s Kenwood Academy to once be considered the most important R&B singer and songwriter of his generation.
Serious allegations of sexual abuse involving Kelly were first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2000.
“I would not be surprised if, once the dust settles, if R. Kelly’s team starts talking to prosecutors in Chicago and elsewhere regarding a potential resolution whereby he would admit to all the conduct and that would be considered by one judge in one location,” Mariotti said.
Mariotti also cautioned that the possibility of such a deal “depends on what both sides want and how realistic they are.”
During the last status hearing in Chicago’s federal case, Kelly defense attorney Steve Greenberg said the Brooklyn verdict could be key to how the Chicago case moves forward. He told the judge, “If [Kelly] wins the case in New York, I’m certain that he’ll want to litigate the case in Chicago.”
But if convicted in New York, Greenberg said, “I don’t know what [Kelly’s] position would be.”
Greenberg and Michael Leonard, another local defense attorney, still officially represent Kelly in the Chicago case even though Kelly moved forward with different lawyers in Brooklyn.
Leonard said Monday he thought it would make the most sense to wait until after Kelly is sentenced in Brooklyn to move forward with the Chicago case, though he expects prosecutors and Kelly’s co-defendants to feel differently.
In a text message, Greenberg said Monday’s verdict was “a reflection of the hysteria whipped up by a couple of TV shows.” And he added, “We intend to continue to fight on R. Kelly’s behalf to ensure that everything is being done that can possibly be done.”