R. Kelly lawyer defends artist's 'playboy life'

R. Kelly (centre) arrives for a court hearing in Chicago, Illinois, in 2019, in relation to sex abuse allegations against him. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - R. Kelly's defence team dubbed the singer a "sex symbol" who led a "playboy life" during its closing arguments against charges he led an abusive sex crime ring for decades.

Casting the artist's alleged victims - whose accusations included rape, druggings, imprisonment and child pornography as well as physical and emotional abuse - as money-hungry groupies, attorney Deveraux Cannick said the government was vying to criminalise behaviour he argued is common among international superstars.

"His label starting marketing him as a sex symbol, as a playboy, so he started living a sex symbol, playboy life," the lawyer told the jury.

"Where's the crime in that?" The defence attorney's summation, which is expected to last at least through Thursday, followed six hours of meticulous closing arguments from the prosecution, which painted a picture of a crime boss who inflicted chilling abuse on women and teenagers for decades with the support of his employees and entourage.

Cannick used a mocking tone when referring to alleged victims' testimony - nine women and two men took the stand saying Kelly had sexually abused them - poking at their credibility and dismissing them as just "working on those paydays."

"A lot of people are surviving off of R. Kelly," he argued, making a play on the name of the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries that reignited focus on the long history of accusations against the singer.

In a bizarre opening Cannick began his feverish remarks by evoking Martin Luther King Jr, saying Kelly was only trying to "protest injustice" as the iconic civil rights leader had.

He went on to tell jurors "it's not a crime, kinky sex" and that "some people just like" relationships between an older man and a "younger female."

"You heard about a man who treated these women like gold," Cannick said. "He bought them bags more expensive than cars."

The artist born Robert Sylvester Kelly faces one count of racketeering and eight violations of the Mann Act, which bans transporting people across state lines for sex.

The singer of I Believe I Can Fly fame denies all charges.

Following closing statements in the Brooklyn federal courthouse, which are expected to continue at least into Thursday, the jury of seven men and five women will begin deliberating Kelly's fate.

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