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R. Kelly pleads not guilty to new sex charges

A new indictment filed last week adds new felony counts against the R&B singer that carry potential prison sentences of up to 30 years.

R. Kelly talks to a supporter as he walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse June 6, 2019.
R. Kelly talks to a supporter as he walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Thursday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

R&B star R. Kelly pleaded not guilty Thursday to new, more serious charges for allegedly having sex with an underage girl nearly a decade ago.

A grand jury last week returned an 11-count indictment against Kelly for allegedly having sex with a teenage girl identified in the filing by the initials “J.P.”, in January 2010. The indictment includes four counts that are Class X felony charges that carry a potential sentence of up to 30 years if convicted.

Wearing a gray windowpane suit, Kelly walked past a mob of cameras in the courthouse lobby after the five-minute arraignment hearing. His lawyer, Steve Greenberg, said that the new, more serious charges did not shake Kelly’s intention to fight the case at trial.

“It doesn’t change the calculus at all,” Greenberg said. “If you didn’t do it, you didn’t do it.”

The new charges come from the same facts as one of the four cases filed against Kelly in February, when the singer was charged with criminal sexual abuse of four women, three of them 16 years old or younger, in separate incidents dating back as far as 1998. In each of those cases, Kelly was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse, a lower-level felony count that carries a sentence of three to seven years.

“These are the same conduct, just charged differently, same alleged victim, same time frame, same facts,” Greenberg wrote on Twitter last week. “We expect the same result.”

The alleged victim, J.P., claimed she had sex with Kelly “multiple times” at his Olympia Fields mansion in January 2010, when she was 16 years old. At Kelly’s bail hearing in February, prosecutors said the teen met Kelly in 2008 when she tried to get his autograph during his trial that year on child pornography charges.

Despite the more serious counts in the new indictment, prosecutors did not ask Judge Lawrence Flood to increase Kelly’s $250,000 bail for the case. The singer in February was ordered held on $1 million bail — $250,000 for each of the four cases — and spent three nights in jail before he was able to come up with the $100,000 necessary to secure his release.

Veteran defense lawyer Tony Thedford said it was not unusual for prosecutors to re-indict a defendant with more serious charges, though often the “upgraded” charges reflect new evidence about additional crimes or more serious acts. In Kelly’s case, it could be a strategic move by prosecutors to increase pressure on the singer with the threat of spending decades behind bars, or a sign that the investigation that led to the initial batch of charges was rushed.

While none of the crimes alleged happened more recently than 2010, Kelly was arrested less than a month after allegations against the singer resurfaced in the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary that aired in January.

“This could be a sign that these cases were not fully investigated before this one was charged. The documentary aired in January and he was charged in, what, February?” Thedford said. “I assume that (Kelly) has a defense, but this could be an attempt to cut the legs off the defense because of the fear of a long sentence.”

R. Kelly gets ready to walk into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Thursday morning.
R. Kelly gets ready to walk into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Thursday morning.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
R. Kelly walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.
R. Kelly walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019. A new indictment filed last week adds felony charges of criminal sexual abuse against the R&B singer that carry potential prison sentences of up to 30 years.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
R. Kelly walks out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Thursday morning.
R. Kelly walks with supporters out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after pleading not guilty Thursday to new, more serious charges for allegedly having sex with an underage girl nearly a decade ago.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
R. Kelly walks out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Thursday morning
Women take his picture as R. Kelly walks with supporters out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Thursday morning.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times