Beleaguered R&B star R. Kelly told a judge on Wednesday that he will not testify in his own defense at his federal sex trafficking trial, meaning he will avoid a potentially damaging cross-examination.
‘You don’t want to testify, correct?’ US District Judge Ann Connelly asked the singer. He laconically responded: ‘Yes, ma’am.’
When asked by the judge if he understood the implications of his decision, he replied: ‘correct.’ Lawyers had already said Kelly was unlikely to take the witness stand.
Closing arguments began Wednesday afternoon as a prosecutor began 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.
Assistant US Attorney Elizabeth Geddes insisted that the trial ‘showed he did just that.’
In this sketch drawn from a video feed, R. Kelly, right, stands and informs Judge Ann Donnelly that he will not take the stand in his own defense on Wednesday
Federal prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes, left, points to R. Kelly, right, during closing arguments in Kelly’s sex trafficking trial on Wednesday
Closing arguments began after six weeks of testimony which saw 45 witnesses called upon by the prosecution and 5 witnesses called by the defense
She said that Kelly got away with sexually abusing his victims by surrounding himself with a team which he strictly controlled. She described the assistants, drivers, bodyguards and others Kelly employed as a criminal enterprise that resulted in the federal racketeering charges brought against him.
‘The defendant set rules, lots of them, and he demanded complete obedience,’ she explained. That meant ‘for many years what happened in the defendant´s world stayed in the defendant´s world. But no longer.’
Jurors could begin deliberating as early as Thursday. Kelly, 54, faces a life sentence, if convicted as charged.
The brief defense case has relied on just a handful of former Kelly employees and other associates who agreed to take the stand over the course of two days to try to discredit allegations that he sexually abused women, girls and boys during a 30-year musical career.
Most of the defense witnesses said they never saw Kelly abuse anyone. One went as far to say Kelly was ‘chivalrous’ to his girlfriends. Another admitted he owed Kelly for his break in music business and wanted to see him beat the case.
The defense’s fifth and final witness, music industry executive Julius Darrington, testified for 15 minutes on Wednesday. He said he spent 10- to 12-hours a day with Kelly ‘every day, almost,’ from 2016 until 2019, when Kelly was taken into custody.
Darrington said he never saw women being locked in rooms, heard screaming or crying, or saw Kelly strike anyone, which other witnesses have said took place.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes tried to emphasize how Darrington was not monitoring Kelly around the clock.
‘You have no knowledge of what the defendant did behind closed doors when you weren’t there, correct?’ she asked. ‘Correct,’ Darrington responded.
Darrington consulted on Kelly’s final music project attempt, which failed.
On Wednesday, the defense called its fifth and final witness, music executive Julius Darrington, left, at Brooklyn’s Federal District Court
Darrington testified he never saw Kelly mistreat women, but on cross-examination he conceded that he did not know what the artist did behind closed doors
By refusing to take the stand, Kelly, left, avoided a potentially damaging cross-examination
The defense welcomed witness Kelly’s childhood friend and disgraced former Chicago police officer, Larry Hood, to testify.
Hood began by claiming that he never saw Kelly engaging with underage girls but then admitted that he was present when the musician met Aaliyah for the first time.
Aaliyah is the youngest of Kelly’s alleged victims. She is believed to be 13 or 14 when Kelly began having sex with her in 1993 and 15 when he forged documents to marry her illegally.
She died in 2001 at the age of 22 in a plane crash in the Bahamas.
He testified that he never witnessed Kelly acting inappropriately. ‘As a police officer, I would have had to take action against that,’ Hood said. ‘I never had to take any action. I was never made aware of any wrongdoing.’
But he later shared that Kelly surrounded himself with girls specifically mentioning ‘little Aaliyah’s little hype girls’ saying ‘I wasn’t checking IDs at the studio’ and admitting, ‘She was a young lady, yes.’
Hood appeared to grow somewhat hesitant when questioned by prosecutors on whether or not he was aware Kelly had married Aaliyah when she was just 15, first asserting that he didn’t understand the question, before stating that he ‘wasn’t there’ when the wedding took place.
When cross-examined concerning whether he had known that the marriage transpired or not, he said he only became aware it occurred ‘later in life.
Hood was also questioned about Aaliyah’s 1994 album, which was produced by Kelly, and its titular hit, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number.
Prosecutors relayed to Hood that the song is about a young girl attempting to seduce an older man despite their drastic age difference. When asked whether it was true that Aaliyah was about 14 when she recorded it, Hood replied, ‘Approximately, yes.’
Hood was stripped of his badge in 2006 when he plead guilty to forgery.
The defense also called Dhanai Ramnanan to the stand. Ramnanan testified that Kelly was ‘like a mentor to me and a good friend.’ The aspiring musician said he worked with Kelly for 15 years sporadically and never witnessed Kelly mistreating women.
‘Whenever we’d go to a restaurant, they’d sit down first, they’d order first, they got to eat first,’ he said Kelly’s girlfriends. ‘I mean, chivalry, basically.’
He insisted that he did not ever witness Kelly verbally or physically abuse women, or prohibit them from eating or using the restroom all of which he has been accused of during the trial.
However, Ramnanan admitted to prosecutors that he wasn’t with Kelly when he was alone with his girlfriends, nor was he accompanying the singer at all times.
What’s more, when the prosecutor observed that Ramnanan was dependent on Kelly for his success as a musician, Ramnanan agreed.
But Ramnanan has yet to release any music professionally, even after his 15-year collaboration with Kelly – and defense attorney Calvin Scholar even attempted to get him some exposure with a courtroom viewing, after Ramnanan mentioned he had brought in one of the songs he and Kelly had worked on.
Kelly, pictured in a Chicago courtroom in 2019, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering and sex trafficking charges, which could land him in prison for life
By contrast, prosecutors have called 45 witnesses since the trial began in federal court in Brooklyn on August 18. They included several female and two male accusers to back up allegations that Kelly used a cadre of managers, bodyguards and assistants to systematically recruit potential victims at his shows, malls and fast-food restaurants where he hung out.
The accusers testified that once they were in Kelly’s orbit, he groomed them for unwanted sex and psychological torment – mostly when they were teenagers – in episodes dating to the 1990s.
The accusers’ searing 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.
The defendant, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges. He’s also charged with that multiple violations of the Mann Act, an interstate anti-sex trafficking law which makes it illegal to transport anyone across state lines ‘for any immoral purpose.’
Kelly has also been accused of knowingly spreading herpes to several of his victims, which is a crime in some states.
He has vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that the accusers were groupies who wanted to take advantage of his fame and fortune until the #MeToo movement turned them against him.
Despite decades of sexual misconduct accusations, the New York case is only the second to result in a criminal trial. He was previously acquitted of a child pornography charge.
Kelly also faces separate criminal charges in federal court in Chicago, and state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.