New lawyer challenges R. Kelly’s racketeering conviction; seeks acquittal, new trial

A jury in Brooklyn’s federal court last fall convicted Kelly of racketeering at the end of a roughly five-week trial featuring 45 government witnesses. The 55-year-old singer faces 10 years to life in prison. His sentencing there is set for May 4.

SHARE New lawyer challenges R. Kelly’s racketeering conviction; seeks acquittal, new trial
R. Kelly talks to a supporter as he walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019.

R. Kelly talks to a supporter as he walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The new lawyer for convicted R&B singer R. Kelly asked a federal judge in Brooklyn on Thursday to overturn the verdict against him or give him a new trial in a set of expected challenges to his racketeering conviction last year.

Kelly is now represented by Jennifer Bonjean, the attorney who helped actor Bill Cosby in his successful bid last year to have the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturn his sexual assault conviction. Her legal career began in Chicago.

Now, Bonjean has argued that federal prosecutors in New York, “invigorated by an influential social movement determined to punish centuries of male misbehavior through symbolic prosecutions,” stretched the boundaries of federal law that was “not designed to punish sexual misconduct like that alleged” against Kelly.

“If the government intends to prosecute Mann Act violations in the fashion it did here,” Bonjean wrote, “it might consider investigating the many influential, wealthy, mostly White, corporate leaders who frequently arrange travel for paramours who later conclude that the experience was less than pleasant.”

Separately, Bonjean argued that Kelly deserves a new trial because his previous legal team “fell apart mere weeks before the commencement of trial.” She wrote that his trial lawyers did not meaningfully participate in jury selection, allowing jurors to be seated despite certain answers on their questionnaires, and one of his lawyers had a conflict with a key witness.

Bonjean wrote that one juror acknowledged on a questionnaire getting the impression from specials or documentaries about Kelly that “he loves underage girls.”

“[Kelly] had no chance to defend himself where most of the jurors in his case were fully aware of his prior legal issues, some had watched the damning docuseries ‘Surviving R. Kelly,’ and many seemed to accept that he was known for abusing minors,” Bonjean wrote. “Frankly, everyone in the courtroom seemed to accept that [Kelly’s] jury would be prejudiced against him, and made virtually no effort to empanel a truly unbiased jury.”

Prosecutors have until March 10 to respond.

A jury in Brooklyn’s federal court last fall convicted Kelly of racketeering at the end of a roughly five-week trial featuring 45 government witnesses. The 55-year-old singer faces 10 years to life in prison. His sentencing there is set for May 4.

In the time that has passed, Kelly has shaken up his legal team. Bonjean now represents him in Brooklyn and Chicago. Kelly is charged in federal court here with child pornography and obstruction of justice. That case is set for trial Aug. 1, one year after the start of Kelly’s 2021 Brooklyn trial. The Chicago trial could last three or four weeks, lawyers have said.

Complicating matters here are Kelly’s two co-defendants, former employees Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown. McDavid’s lawyers have complained about being “at the mercy of Mr. Kelly’s problems” and have insisted they want to swiftly go to trial. The charges in that case have been pending since July 2019.

Kelly also faces separate aggravated criminal sexual abuse charges from state-court prosecutors in Cook County, as well as an additional criminal case in Minnesota.

For now, Kelly remains locked up in a federal detention center in Brooklyn.

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