R. Kelly convicted of child pornography charges

WASHINGTON - Disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, who is already serving a 30-year sentence for sex trafficking and racketeering, was found guilty of child pornography charges on Wednesday after a month-long trial in his hometown of Chicago.

Kelly, 55, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was convicted of three counts of producing child pornography and three counts of enticement of a minor.

During the trial, several women took the stand and told jurors that Kelly sexually abused them when they were minors.

The jury also saw a video of Kelly molesting his goddaughter, who testified that the abuse began in the 1990s when she was a teenager.

Kelly, a three-time Grammy Award winner, was acquitted by a federal jury of seven other counts, including charges that he obstructed justice in a previous trial. He and two ex-associates were accused of rigging his 2008 child pornography trial in which a jury delivered a verdict of not guilty.

Kelly's former manager, Derrel McDavid, and an ex-employee, Milton "June" Brown, were also acquitted Wednesday of the obstruction charges.

The videotape

Kelly was convicted in New York in September of recruiting teenagers and women for sex.

The I Believe I Can Fly artist was found guilty of eight charges of sex trafficking and one count of racketeering in that case.

Kelly's conviction in New York was widely seen as a milestone for the #MeToo movement: It was the first major sex abuse trial where the majority of accusers were Black women.

It was also the first time Kelly faced criminal consequences for the abuse he was rumoured for decades to have inflicted on women and children.

The federal trial in Chicago carried echoes of a state trial in 2008, in which a jury acquitted Kelly on charges of producing child sexual abuse imagery. That trial focused on one videotape, which prosecutors said showed Kelly sexually abusing and urinating on a girl when she was 14.

After finding him not guilty, some jurors told reporters after that trial that the lack of testimony from the young woman – who denied to a grand jury that she appears in the video – was a significant barrier to convicting Kelly.

During the Chicago trial, which started in August, prosecutors removed that barrier. The woman at the centre of the 2008 trial testified, identifying herself as the girl who was sexually abused by Kelly in the video.

Prosecutors showed jurors clips from that video and from two others that they described as footage of Kelly sexually abusing the woman when she was underage.

Efforts to derail the case

Much of the testimony in the trial revolved around the events surrounding the first trial.

Prosecutors accused Kelly of working to obstruct an investigation into his treatment of underage girls in the early 2000s by hiring people to help him recover missing videos of his sexual abuse of children and persuading the woman at the centre of the earlier trial to lie on his behalf.

A key development for prosecutors came when that woman decided in 2019 – months after the Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly aired sexual abuse allegations against Kelly – to cooperate with investigators.

“I no longer wanted to carry his lies,” the woman testified.

She said Kelly persuaded her to falsely deny to a grand jury in 2002 that it is her on the tape, and that she ever had a sexual relationship with him.

Another key witness, Mr Charles Freeman, testified that Kelly called him in 2001, asking for help recovering some “stolen tapes”.  He said that over a period of several years, he received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Kelly and his associates as part of an effort to retrieve missing tapes.

Three other women, all of whom were identified by pseudonyms, testified in the trial, saying that Kelly sexually abused them when they were underage.

A fifth accuser who had been expected to testify did not appear.

'Victim of extortion'

Kelly declined to testify. (He did not testify in the 2008 trial in Chicago or the one in New York, either.)

A lawyer representing him, Ms Jennifer Bonjean, argued in court that the prosecution of Kelly was the outcome of a rush to judgement during the #MeToo movement, describing him as a “victim of extortion and financial exploitation”.

She sought to cast doubt on the women’s stories and to portray them as testifying for money and self-protection, highlighting the fact that the woman at the centre of the 2008 trial had an immunity deal with prosecutors that protects her from perjury charges from lying to the grand jury at the time.

The woman acknowledged that she had an immunity deal, and that she lied years ago, but insisted that she was telling the truth now. The jury apparently believed her.  NYTIMES, AFP, REUTERS

 

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