R. Kelly jurors begin to deliberate after singer’s lawyer makes final pitch

Now in its fifth week, Kelly’s trial on federal child pornography and obstruction charges has reached its final stage.

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In this 2019 file photo, R. Kelly leaves the Daley Center after a child support hearing.

In this 2019 file photo, R. Kelly leaves the Daley Center after a child support hearing shortly before he was indicted in federal court on child pornography charges. The singer’s trial on those charges is drawing to a close. His lawyers made their closing arguments Tuesday.

AP Photo/Matt Marton

Before they retired Tuesday afternoon to consider the federal charges in Chicago against R&B superstar R. Kelly, jurors listened as his lawyer insisted the singer who penned “I Believe I Can Fly” in the 1990s “should not be stripped of every bit of humanity that he has.”

Defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean said Kelly came into his latest trial at a disadvantage, given that most jurors likely started with “not particularly favorable” knowledge about Kelly. She then sought to meticulously dismantle most of the indictment prosecutors first leveled against Kelly three years ago.

But when it came to three of the most serious charges faced by Kelly in his latest trial — the production of child pornography when Kelly allegedly recorded his sexual abuse of a teenager known as “Jane” — Bonjean offered just a few technical defenses. 

R. Kelly Chicago Trial

Full coverage of R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago:

She questioned whether the videos crossed state lines. She asked, “was his purpose to create child pornography?” And though she said Jane has lied in the past, she said “that is not to say that she has told falsehoods about everything.” 

“We’re not denying that this relationship commenced,” Bonjean said of Kelly and Jane. “And you heard the testimony. You will decide when the relationship commenced.”

The nearly two-hour argument from the normally fiery defense attorney seemed to reflect the reality for Kelly: Defense attorneys have pointed out serious problems with the conspiracies prosecutors have alleged involving Kelly and his two co-defendants, but the feds have also offered strong evidence of Kelly’s abuse of Jane. 

A notorious video allegedly depicting that abuse surfaced in the 2000s and became central to Kelly’s earlier state-court trial in 2008. Jane declined to testify then, and Kelly was acquitted. 

Federal prosecutors have now accused Kelly of rigging that trial along with his business manager, Derrel McDavid, in part by intimidating Jane and her family into lying to authorities. 

Jane testified against Kelly for the first time last month, alleging that Kelly abused her repeatedly when she was underage in the late 1990s. She said it started when she was around 14 years old. Jurors also viewed snippets of three videos — the one from the 2008 trial and two others — that allegedly captured the abuse. 

Not only that, but three other witnesses testified about sexual encounters involving Jane and Kelly when Jane was underage, corroborating her testimony. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng, in the final argument of the trial, told jurors that Jane “was a child when Kelly asked her about the color of her panties and engaged her in phone sex” before the abuse turned physical. She said four other alleged victims — known in court as Tracy, Pauline, Nia and Brittany — were also children. 

“They were children when he engaged them in threesomes,” Appenteng said. “Find Robert Kelly guilty of sexually abusing these young women. Find him guilty of sexually abusing Jane. And for recording himself sexually abusing her over and over again as you saw.”

Kelly could be seen softly shaking his head as the prosecutor finished her presentation.

Though Bonjean may have offered technical defenses regarding the alleged production of child pornography involving Jane, she sought to pick apart other counts in the indictment one-by-one.

Rather than being intimidated into silence, Bonjean insisted Jane and her family made a choice when they learned in early 2002, when Jane was 17, about Kelly’s apparent relationship with the girl. She is now in her late 30s.

“She was 17 years old,” Bonjean said. “And they did not care that she was having a relationship, at that point, with Mr. Kelly.”

“For all the fist pounding and outrage, that family made a decision that they wanted to make at that time,” Bonjean continued. “And they lived with that decision … From that decision evolved a friendship that lasted decades.”

Bonjean also addressed Kelly’s other accusers — Tracy, Pauline, Nia and Brittany — individually. She pointed to discrepancies about whether Tracy met Kelly when she was 16 or 17. Bonjean said, “there are people out there willing to lie about their age. You’ve seen it in this case. And Tracy is one of them.”

She pointed to Nia’s claim that Kelly sent a limo to her home when she was 15 and said “it kind of shows [Kelly’s] state of mind” and that he “probably didn’t think she was 15.”

Bonjean said Pauline tried to extort Kelly and claimed she drank alcohol during that relationship, while she was underage, that didn’t hit the market until one month before her 17th birthday. 

Finally, Bonjean pointed out that Brittany never took the stand at all. 

“Brittany!” Bonjean declared. “Who is Brittany? Where is Brittany?”

Jurors were sent home hours later without reaching a verdict, but are expected to return to the courthouse Wednesday morning to continue deliberating.

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