New York Judge Denies R. Kelly’s COVID-19 Plea to Be Released From Custody

R. Kelly
E. Jason Wambsgans-Pool/Getty Images

R. Kelly appears in court with his attorney Steve Greenberg (L) for a hearing to request that he be allowed to travel to Dubai at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on March 22, 2019 in Chicago.

A New York Federal judge has denied R. Kelly’s request to be released from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kelly is awaiting trial in New York on charges of racketeering, transportation to engage in illegal sexual activity, coercion of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity among other charges. He is also awaiting trial in Illinois regarding separate sexual abuse allegations and is currently being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.

“While I am sympathetic to the defendant’s understandable anxiety about COVID-19, he has not established compelling reasons warranting his release,” wrote U.S. District Judge Anne Donnelly in her opinion issued Tuesday (April 7). “At present, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the MCC in Chicago.”

Donnelly says that the Bureau of Prisons has already enacted emergency measures to protect inmates such as making soap available, suspending all legal and social visits, suspending inmate facility transfers and providing screening and testing. In addition, the judge says that Kelly has not demonstrated that he is within the CDC’s most at-risk group.

“The defendant is fifty-three years old, twelve years younger than the cohort of ‘older adults’ defined by the CDC as high risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” Donnelly wrote in her opinion. “Although the defendant has had surgery during his incarceration, he does not explain how his surgical history places him at a higher risk of severe illness.”

Donnelly also said Kelly is not suitable for release because he has not demonstrated that is not a fight risk of a danger to the community. Kelly is in custody because “of the risks that he will flee or attempt to obstruct, threaten or intimidate prospective witnesses,” Donnelly said.

Kelly made a similar pitch on March 26 to the Illinois federal court to be released from custody citing his fear from the possibility of contracting the rapidly spreading coronavirus. In that motion, obtained by Billboard, filed by his attorney Steven Greenberg on Thursday (March 26), it states that the encouraged social distancing from the CDC are "simply impossible" in the correctional facility's close quarters.

"No matter what steps they take the sanitation will be substandard, the risk of an internal pandemic at the MCC is great, and if one does get sick jail healthcare is notoriously substandard," it also states, mentioning that his legal team has been blocked from entering the facility due to the risk of exposure.

If released on bond as requested, the singer will live with his girlfriend Jocelyn Savage at a Chicago apartment complex. "He would submit to any conditions that this court saw fit, including home incarceration," the motion reads.

Greenberg also compares staying in the facility under the current conditions is "tantamount to making them drink poison." Illinois court has not ruled on Kelly’s request.

Kelly faces several dozen counts of state and federal sexual misconduct charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York, from sexual assault to heading a racketeering scheme aimed at supplying Kelly with girls. He was jailed in July and has been awaiting trial in a jail one block from the Chicago courthouse, where he attends pretrial hearings. He has participated in hearings in his New York case by video.

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