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Defense and federal prosecutors in R. Kelly case spar over whether singer's sex habits were legal spoils of fame or predatory criminal conspiracy

Jason Meisner and Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK — R&B superstar R. Kelly was an international sex symbol known for his playboy lifestyle, but his relationships were consensual and the women who lined up to testify that he sexually abused them are lying to get a payday, Kelly’s lawyer told a federal jury in New York on Thursday.

Pacing the floor of the Brooklyn federal courtroom and occasionally raising his voice to a shout, Kelly attorney Deveraux Cannick called one of the alleged victims a “super hustler” and a “stalker extraordinaire” and repeatedly accused the government of allowing witnesses to come in and lie to win the big prize.

“Getting a conviction of R. Kelly is a big deal,” Cannick said, telling jurors the government had fallen short. “They gotta try to bring home the bacon ... But you can’t want it that bad. You really just can’t.”

A prosecutor later blasted the assertion that the singer was just enjoying his fame, saying Kelly’s legal team was resorting to classic victim-blaming and had “taken a time machine back to a courthouse in the 1950s.”

“What they were basically insinuating was that all of these women and girls were asking for it, and they deserved what they got,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Shihata told the jury in rebuttal. “It’s not only absurd, it’s shameful.”

The drastically different portrayals of Kelly and his sexually charged lifestyle played out during long-awaited closing arguments in the Chicago-born singer’s sweeping racketeering trial.


U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly recessed the trial for the day about 45 minutes into Shihata’s rebuttal. She said the jury was expected to begin deliberations after arguments and jury instructions Friday.

Kelly, 54, was charged in an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn in 2019 with heading a criminal enterprise that employed agents, runners, bodyguards and others to lure and trap girls and young women to satisfy his sexually predatory desires.

He faces decades in prison if convicted of the main racketeering charge, though the jury could decide to convict on lesser charges of kidnapping or violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits traveling over state lines for illegal sexual acts.

The trial featured nearly six weeks of testimony from some 50 witnesses, including a number of alleged victims who told the jury that Kelly manipulated and controlled them and forced them to have sex with him and others — often on videotape.


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