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After R. Kelly Declines to Testify, Closing Arguments Begin in Sex Trafficking Trial

R. Kelly
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R. Kelly arrives at the Leighton Courthouse for his status hearing in relation to the sex abuse allegations made against him on May 7, 2019 in Chicago.

A prosecutor began closing arguments in the R. Kelly sex trafficking trial Wednesday (Sept. 22) by telling jurors that the government had delivered on its promises to prove that the R&B singer had for years commanded close associates to help him target, groom and exploit girls, boys, and young women for his own sexual gratification.

Six weeks of testimony from more than 45 witnesses and other evidence “showed he did just that,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes.

She said Kelly got away with sexually abusing his victims by surrounding himself with enablers he managed with an iron fist.

She told jurors the assistants, drivers, bodyguards and others Kelly employed comprised a criminal enterprise that resulted in the federal racketeering charges against him.

“The defendant set rules, lots of them, and he demanded complete obedience,” she said.

That meant “for many years what happened in the defendant’s world stayed in the defendant’s world,” she added. “But no longer.”

Then, Geddes began meticulously summarizing every key element of the evidence for jurors.

Before closings began, Kelly told U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly that he won’t take the witness stand, allowing him to avoid the risk of a potentially brutal cross-examination.

“You don’t want to testify, correct?” Donnelly asked the R&B singer. He responded: “Yes, ma’am.”

Lawyers had already said Kelly was unlikely to testify in his own behalf. Soon afterward, the defense completed presenting its case, setting the stage for closings to begin.

The defense presentation had relied on a handful of former Kelly employees and other associates who agreed to take the stand to try to discredit allegations that he sexually abused women, girls and boys during a 30-year musical career highlighted by the 1996 smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly.”

Most of the defense witnesses said they never saw Kelly abuse anyone. One even said Kelly was “chivalrous” to his girlfriends. Another admitted he owed Kelly for his break in music business and wanted to see him beat the charges.

By contrast, prosecutors have called dozens of witnesses since the trial began in federal court in Brooklyn on Aug. 18. They included several female and two male accusers to support allegations that Kelly used a cadre of managers, bodyguards and assistants to systematically recruit potential victims at his shows and at malls and fast-food restaurants where he spent time.

The accusers testified that once they were in Kelly’s web, he groomed them for unwanted sex and psychological torment — mostly when they were teenagers — in episodes dating to the 1990s. Their accounts were supported at least in part by other former Kelly employees, whose own testimony suggested they were essentially paid off to look the other way or enable the recording artist.