R. Kelly Trial News and Live Updates
After a five-week trial that included searing accusations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse against the superstar R&B singer R. Kelly, prosecutors prepared to offer their closing argument on Wednesday.
Although accusations of sexual misconduct have trailed Mr. Kelly for decades, the New York case is only the second to result in a criminal trial. (He was acquitted of a child pornography charge in 2008.)
The federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have constructed a sweeping racketeering case, with evidence that extends from recent years back to the early 1990s that seeks to portray the singer as the kingpin of a decades-long criminal enterprise that recruited women and girls for sex. Mr. Kelly is also charged with eight violations of the Mann Act, an interstate anti-sex trafficking law.
Mr. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Here are some of the most significant moments in the case and the trial:
Federal charges were first brought against Mr. Kelly in July 2019: More charges were filed within months, including allegations by a woman who had previously defended the singer. She testified under a pseudonym at the trial.
The pandemic delayed the trial for more than a year: Amid the wait, some of the singer’s allies were accused of using arson, bribery and other intimidation tactics to silence witnesses who were expected to testify.
The trial began on Aug. 18 with opening statements: Prosecutors said the singer “used every trick in the predator handbook” to mislead his accusers and their families. His lawyers argued that the accusers’ accounts would fall apart under scrutiny.
The 20th anniversary of the death of the R&B singer Aaliyah fell during the trial’s second week: Mr. Kelly’s illegal marriage to Aaliyah when she was 15 is central to the government’s case. Among the girls that prosecutors say he abused, she was the youngest.
The prosecution rested this week: After 45 witnesses testified for the government, Mr. Kelly’s lawyers offered their own smaller group of witnesses over two days. Observers watched closely to see whether a girlfriend of the singer who has recently expressed support for him would testify, but she was not called to the stand.
R. Kelly will not testify in his own defense at his trial in Brooklyn, the singer told the judge Wednesday morning.
For Mr. Kelly, whose long-awaited trial on racketeering and sex trafficking charges is nearing its end, taking the stand could have been perilous. After facing legal scrutiny in 2019, he lost his composure in a widely viewed interview with Gayle King of “CBS This Morning,” jumping out of his chair and pounding his chest on camera.
When asked if he understood the consequences of his decision, Mr. Kelly said: “Correct.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the 50th and final witness of the trial, Julius Darrington, who consulted on Mr. Kelly’s final, failed music project, testified for about 15 minutes. During his testimony, Mr. Darrington first told the jury he had worked with Mr. Kelly for about 10 to 12 hours “every day, almost,” starting in 2016 and lasting for about four years (Mr. Kelly was taken into custody in 2019 and has been detained ever since).
Mr. Darrington, who took the stand for the defense, said he had never seen Mr. Kelly abuse his girlfriends. But on cross-examination he admitted he knew little about Mr. Kelly’s personal life.
“In fact, you have no knowledge of what happened behind closed doors when you weren’t there, correct?” asked Nadia Shihata, an assistant U.S. attorney.
“Correct,” Mr. Darrington said.
Mr. Darrington’s testimony underscored the precipitous downfall of Mr. Kelly’s music career. Earlier testimony suggested that by January 2018, Mr. Kelly was in $12 million of debt. Prosecutors said in his final 18 months of freedom, he performed just three shows.
R. Kelly’s defense team rested its case Wednesday morning, but it remains unknown when a verdict might be reached in the singer’s long-awaited sex-trafficking and racketeering trial.
Closing arguments are set to begin Wednesday afternoon, starting with the prosecution team from the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, but it could be at least another day before the jury begins deliberations. Closing arguments in federal trials can run long; neither side has offered a ballpark estimate of how much time they need, but each could take hours, followed by rebuttals.
For prosecutors, closings are a chance to pull together weeks of witness testimony into a coherent narrative, and to argue that the evidence they have presented points in only one logical direction: guilt.
Mr. Kelly’s lawyers, in turn, will present their own narrative, revisiting apparent holes and inconsistencies in witness testimony, casting doubt on Mr. Kelly’s accusers’ motives, and trying to undermine the government’s case.
After the closings, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly will instruct the jury in how they are to deliberate on the nine counts Mr. Kelly is charged with — one racketeering count and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking statute.
Jury instructions may seem dry, but the judge’s words to the jury as she gives them the case are important, and they are often carefully litigated. For example, in recent days, R. Kelly’s lawyers and federal prosecutors have gone back and forth in court filings about how they would like Judge Donnelly to explain the nuances of the racketeering charge, and possible defenses to claims of Mr. Kelly’s abuse of underage girls.
Judge Donnelly has said she expects the jury to have the case by the end of the week.
After that, it is anybody’s guess. Old courthouse “wisdom” sometimes holds that long trials lead to long jury deliberations, but in at least one recent case in Brooklyn federal court, that did not happen: The 2019 racketeering and sex-trafficking trial of Keith Raniere, founder of the Nxivm sex cult, lasted six weeks — and the jury found him guilty in less than a day.
Courthouse gadflies also like to say that the longer deliberations stretch out, the better the outlook for defendants.
Many of the accusations of sexual misconduct and violence against R. Kelly would normally be too old to prosecute under the statute of limitations.
But because Mr. Kelly is charged with racketeering, prosecutors have been able to present evidence of uncharged criminal activity dating back decades, including Mr. Kelly’s illegal marriage to the singer Aaliyah when she was 15.
But the racketeering charge also requires prosecutors to show that Mr. Kelly was at the center of a criminal enterprise, and over the course of the trial, eight of his former employees have testified against him, including some under subpoena.
Working for the singer’s company, RSK Enterprises, a name that borrows from Mr. Kelly’s initials, the employees helped the singer turn his fame into an organized effort to solicit young girls for sex, prosecutors said.
To illustrate that enterprise, prosecutors introduced into evidence a document created by one of Mr. Kelly’s former accountants, John Holder. The document depicted a red octopus with “Robert S. Kelly” as the head, with his security and other associates as individual tentacles.
Diana Copeland, a former assistant to Mr. Kelly who worked for him on and off for about 15 years, said he would not allow his live-in girlfriends to get into an Uber if a man was driving. She told the jury that if a male driver pulled up, “I would have to call another one” — and keep calling until a female driver appeared.
Ms. Copeland also said her pay had been docked once after she scheduled appointments for two of Mr. Kelly’s live-in girlfriends at a nail salon where a man happened to work.
Tom Arnold, who worked for Mr. Kelly from 2003 to 2011 and sometimes drove female visitors to see the singer, testified that he had been told to “turn the rearview mirror up” to avoid accidentally getting a glimpse of his passengers.
He also described his attempts and those of other employees to procure women for Mr. Kelly by passing out the singer’s phone number so often that they sometimes typed up the digits and printed them in bulk.
A former assistant, Anthony Navarro, testified that when he had started working for Mr. Kelly in 2007, he was given a list of rules.
Among the most prominent: “I wasn’t supposed to be talking to any of the girls — the guests — who were coming into the house,” he said.
“It was almost like ‘The Twilight Zone,’” he recalled of the more than two years he spent working out of Mr. Kelly’s home. “You went into the gate, and it was like a different world, just a strange place.”
One of the key figures at the center of R. Kelly’s trial in Brooklyn is another R&B star: Aaliyah, whom Mr. Kelly married when she was 15 years old.
Several witnesses during the trial have testified about the singers’ time together. Demetrius Smith, Mr. Kelly’s former tour manager, said he watched Mr. Kelly and Aaliyah make music together at her parents’ Detroit home in 1992, and the singers soon began to work together closely.
Mr. Smith testified that he had soon become concerned about the tone of Mr. Kelly’s public encounters with the girl, which he called “overplayful.”
“Robert, you ain’t messing with Aaliyah?” he recalled asking Mr. Kelly one day.
He got his answer when Mr. Kelly approached him shortly before taking the stage one night during a 1994 tour.
“Aaliyah is in trouble, man,” Mr. Smith testified that Mr. Kelly told him, and the two men arranged a flight back to Illinois. Later, on the plane, Mr. Smith said, Mr. Kelly explained the problem: “She thinks she’s pregnant.”
Mr. Smith testified that Mr. Kelly and another member of his staff hatched a plan for the two singers to get married so that Mr. Kelly could avoid potential prosecution for having sex with a minor.
Mr. Smith said he objected to the plan but eventually helped enable it by securing a fake ID for Aaliyah that listed her as 18, opening the door to the marriage. After obtaining a marriage license, Mr. Kelly and the group made their way to a hotel and called a minister.
The minister who married R. Kelly and Aaliyah in 1994 testified virtually about the 10-minute ceremony, which was held at a Sheraton Hotel in the Chicago area.
The minister, the Rev. Nathan J. Edmond, said that his testimony was the first time he had talked publicly about the illegal marriage.
“I looked at the marriage license,” Mr. Edmond told the jury. “It was an official marriage license from Cook County.”
The marriage was annulled the next year. Aaliyah, whose full legal name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, died in a plane crash in 2001. She is known in court documents as Jane Doe No. 1.