Live: R. Kelly Found Guilty of Racketeering

Relatively brief deliberations in a complex case can like this often indicate that the jury was fairly united in reaction to the trial.

Credit…Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times, via Associated Press

The singer R. Kelly, who for years dominated the world of R&B music, was found guilty of being the ringleader of a decades-long scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex.

The jury in the singer’s criminal trial in federal court in Brooklyn convicted him of racketeering after beginning its deliberations Friday afternoon.

The high-profile trial was the first of the Me Too-era where a large majority of the defendant’s accusers were Black women, and the trial was widely seen as a test of the inclusivity of the broader movement to hold powerful men accountable for sexual misconduct.

For Mr. Kelly, the verdict represents the first criminal consequence after decades of murmurs and accusations of sexual abuse and other misbehavior.

Mr. Kelly, once one of the biggest names in popular music, could face decades in prison, capping a remarkable reversal of fortune. He evaded criminal punishment in 2008 when he was acquitted on 14 counts in a highly publicized child pornography case that loomed over the New York trial in the minds of many observers.

The conviction is likely to further diminish the widespread public image that Mr. Kelly enjoyed through the early 2000s as a charismatic and genre-redefining lyricist. The persona began to collapse in the public eye as his conduct came under new scrutiny at the height of the Me Too movement.

Over the course of the six-week trial, prosecutors described in harrowing detail an ecosystem of torment and abuse, with evidence that extended from recent years as far back as 1991.

Prosecutors called nearly four dozen witnesses who testified about how the singer’s public persona as an infectiously charismatic virtuoso disguised a calculated and controlling predator. The witnesses included nine women and two men who accused Mr. Kelly of abuse or other misconduct, and eight of Mr. Kelly’s former employees.

The singer’s lawyers, homing in on minor changes in aspects of witnesses’ stories over time, sought to convince the jurors that any sexual activity involving him and his accusers was consensual and that the accounts of abuse and misconduct had been fabricated. The defense team tried to portray Mr. Kelly as an altruistic romantic partner who regarded the women around him as family and had been blindsided by their allegations.

But the seven men and five women on the jury ultimately sided with the government.

Credit…Frank Micelotta/Invision, via Associated Press

For two decades R. Kelly has been at the center of accusations that he sexually abused underage girls and young women. But for most of that time, the accusations were not enough to derail his music career.

Only in recent years, as Mr. Kelly has faced criminal charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York, where his is now on trial, has a movement to boycott his songs, known as the #MuteRKelly campaign, taken hold.

Before then, Mr. Kelly’s career thrived, even as the accusations against him became widely known. Even before 2000, when The Chicago Sun-Times published the first major investigation into allegations of abuse by Mr. Kelly, he had settled lawsuits accusing him of having sex with underage girls; in 1994, at 27, he had married Aaliyah, who was 15 years old, allegedly using forged documents. Then in 2002, Mr. Kelly was indicted on child pornography charges after a video surfaced that authorities said showed the singer having sex with a teenage girl.

But Mr. Kelly continued to have success before, during and after the controversies, releasing 12 platinum albums in all. His fame was built on massive hits like “I Believe I Can Fly”in 1996 and “Ignition” in 2002. He collaborated with Jay-Z on two albums in 2002 and 2004. He was the featured artist on Lady Gaga’s single “Do What You Want” in 2013. And he was one of two featured artists on Chance the Rapper’s song “Somewhere in Paradise” in 2015.

After his acquittal of child pornography charges in 2008, it seemed as though Mr. Kelly’s career was impenetrable to criticism.

The tables began to turn in 2017 when grass roots campaign emerged aimed at stopping his music from being played on radio stations, streaming services, and at concert venues. Oronike Odeleye, a co-founder of the movement, said she started it “out of a feeling of outrage.”

“This is about child sexual abuse and trauma that was inflicted on some of these women for years and years and years,” Oronike Odeleye told the Times.

Mr. Kelly’s record label dropped him in 2019, after the broadcast of “Surviving R. Kelly,” a documentary with firsthand accounts from women who said he had sexually abused them. Tour dates have been canceled, and Mr. Kelly has been in custody. And while he still garners 5.2 million listeners monthly on Spotify, it is unusual to hear his music played on the radio or in public.

Amid the controversy and trial, fans of Drake were outraged to learn that Mr. Kelly had gained a writing credit on the Canadian rapper’s album “Certified Lover Boy.”

The backlash to Mr. Kelly’s role was so swift that Drake’s longtime producer, Noah Shebib, issued an explanation on Instagram: One of Mr. Kelly’s songs was playing, barely audibly, in the background of another clip in the song.

“We were forced to license it,” Mr. Shebib wrote. “Doesn’t sit well with me let me just say that.”

The judge presiding over R. Kelly’s trial is best known for blocking former President Donald J. Trump’s executive order that barred refugees from entering the country in 2017. Judge Ann M. Donnelly ruled that the president’s order, which led to the detention of green card holders and other immigrants, would cause “irreparable harm” to the people displaced.

Before assuming her post in Brooklyn Federal Court, Judge Donnelly worked as a lawyer in the New York County District Attorney’s Office for 25 years, in roles including senior trial counsel, chief of the Family Violence and Child Abuse Bureau, and a post in a bureau that specialized in dealing with repeat offenders and violent felons.

In 2005 she won a conviction as lead prosecutor in a case finding Tyco chief executive L. Dennis Kozlowski guilty of looting almost $100 million from his company.

Four years later, she assumed her first judgeship in the New York Court of Claims and later moved on to several county supreme courts across New York City. Former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Donnelly to her current post in 2015.

Over the past six weeks, Judge Donnelly has presided over strange occurrences during Mr. Kelly’s trial, including a witness who tried to wriggle out of testifying despite a court order granting him immunity. After one of Mr. Kelly’s defense lawyers dwelled on the topic of “twerking,” Judge Donnelly reprimanded him in a sidebar away from jurors.

“You need to get yourself here into 2021 with the rest of us, OK?” she said.

Credit…Chris Delmas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Fifty witnesses took the stand over the course of R. Kelly’s six-week trial, but the foundation of the racketeering and sex trafficking case against him is based on his encounters with six women.

Believing she was pregnant with his child, Mr. Kelly, who was 27 at the time, illegally married the singer Aaliyah, 15, in a 10-minute ceremony in a Sheraton hotel room in the Chicago area in 1994. They wore matching jogging suits, each with one pant leg hiked to the knee. Mr. Kelly had been having sex with Aaliyah since she was 13 or 14, according to court testimony. One witness suggested he married her solely so that if she were pregnant, she would be able to obtain an abortion, which she otherwise could not have gotten without parental concent. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001.

A woman who testified as Stephanie said that she approached Mr. Kelly at a Nike store in 1999, when she was 17, to ask him for an audition for a friend, an aspiring singer. The superstar agreed — in return for sexual favors, she said. The next six months were “the lowest time of my life,” Stephanie told the jury, marking the first time she had spoken publicly about being sexually abused by the singer when she was underage.

A woman who testified under the name Sonja said she was a 22-year-old radio intern when she met Mr. Kelly outside a mall in Salt Lake City, and he invited her to come to Chicago for an interview in 2003. But when she arrived, she said, Mr. Kelly locked her in a room in his studio for days, letting her out only for escorted visits to the bathroom. After days without food, she said, she was brought something to eat. But after several bites, she began feeling drowsy, she said, and she later woke up to find Mr. Kelly pulling up his pants and her underwear draped over the couch.

Jerhonda Pace took the stand on the first two days of the trial, becoming the first accuser to ever testify against Mr. Kelly. She told the jury that Mr. Kelly had sex with her in 2009, when she was 16 and he was 42. Ms. Pace is one of several women who said the singer knowingly gave her herpes. Years later, she spoke out against the singer on YouTube. She was also featured in the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” in 2019.

This witness offered some of the most disturbing testimony of the trial. Until recently, prosecutors said, she was still in the singer’s clutches, and she gave a television interview defending him in 2019. But on the stand, the woman, now 22, said that over the course of nearly five years beginning when she was 17, Mr. Kelly coerced her to have sex with a man she did not know while he watched, beat her with a sneaker, forced her to get an abortion and knowingly gave her herpes.

A woman named Faith said she was 19 when she began having sex with Mr. Kelly, then 50, in 2017. On one occasion, Mr. Kelly brought her into a room with a gun, grabbed her neck and directed her to perform a sex act on him. And a short time after another sexual encounter, she was diagnosed with herpes. Faith said Mr. Kelly never told her he had the incurable disease.

Credit…Brittainy Newman/Associated Press

A 12-member anonymous jury will decide the fate of R. Kelly, who faces a sprawling racketeering case and eight violations of the Mann Act, a law banning interstate sex trafficking.

The group, which consists of seven men and five women, has been semi-sequestered, meaning they were able to go home at the end of each day.

The racial breakdown of the group remains unclear, but several members shared details about themselves during the in-person selection process. There is a mother of two school-aged children; a fraud investigator who said she was active in her church; a woman with several incarcerated family members; and a man who works at a hotel.

One of the jurors, a longtime flight attendant, said he believed “trial by the media is worse than a trial by jury.” The man told the judge that he has a friend in the family of Bill Cosby, whose 2018 conviction for sexual assault was recently overturned, but that he did not question the jury’s verdict. He said he had heard only minor bits of information about R. Kelly in the news.

The selection process began last month and took place over three days. Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who is presiding over the case, questioned prospective members to gauge their awareness of Mr. Kelly and the accusations against him, their views and personal experience on matters of sexual misconduct and their opinion of the #MeToo movement.

Credit…Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock

The criminal charges against R. Kelly include one count of racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and eight violations of the Mann Act, a sex-trafficking statute.

Racketeering is a charge often associated with organized crime, but it can be applied to any ongoing coordinated illegal scheme or criminal enterprise to carry out a common purpose. In this case, prosecutors said Mr. Kelly and his “inner circle” worked for more than two decades, in multiple states, to promote the singer’s brand, to recruit girls and young women for sexual exploitation, and to produce pornography.

  • Within that single racketeering count are 14 individual acts, some of which themselves have separate parts — and some of those parts have additional questions — each of which the jury has to consider in turn. Those acts include bribery, kidnapping, forced labor and violations of the Mann Act. The racketeering count carries a sentence of up to 20 years.

  • The jury will separately consider eight Mann Act counts, related to transportation and coercion of two women, including a minor. Each of the Mann Act counts carry up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Mr. Kelly, who has pleaded not guilty, could face several decades in prison if convicted.

This is not the first criminal trial against the R&B singer, who has been trailed by a steady stream of abuse accusations that span much of his career. In 2008, Mr. Kelly was the defendant in a high-profile child pornography case that was tried in Chicago. In that case, Mr. Kelly, who pleaded not guilty, was acquitted of all the charges.

Credit…Amr Alfiky/Associated Press

The jury in the singer R. Kelly’s racketeering trial in New York has reached a verdict, according to a courts spokesman.

The seven men and five women on the jury have been in deliberations in federal court in Brooklyn, after U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly gave them the case on Friday around 1:40 p.m.

The trial is widely viewed as a crucial test of the justice system’s ability to hold influential and powerful men accountable for sexual misbehavior: It is the first high-profile trial to emerge amid the Me Too movement in which a powerful man’s accusers are largely Black women.

And in a significant milestone, it featured women and men who took the stand to testify that the singer had abused them, including some of whom had not previously gone public with their accounts. Though accusations of sexual misconduct have trailed Mr. Kelly for decades, never before had one of his accusers testified against him in criminal court.

Mr. Kelly is charged with one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, an anti-sex-trafficking statute, and has pleaded not guilty to all the accusations. He faces decades in prison.

During the six-week trial, the government and defense lawyers offered vastly different portraits of the man at the center of the case.

Prosecutors said Mr. Kelly served as the ringleader of a decades-long criminal enterprise that recruited women and girls for sex. Mr. Kelly’s defense team argued that the government’s case was built on a bed of fabrications, contending that while Mr. Kelly’s accusers appeared to be sympathetic, their stories could not be trusted and contained too many unanswered questions.

“Where’s the fairness to Robert? Where’s the integrity in the system?” one of Mr. Kelly’s lawyers, Deveraux Cannick, said in his summation. “Getting a conviction of R. Kelly is a big deal. But what’s a bigger deal is a system we can trust.”

But federal prosecutors presented a massive pile of evidence at the trial and depicted disturbing portrait of a predator who targeted women, girls and boys. They said Mr. Kelly indoctrinated underage women and forced them to follow a strict system of rules; physically attacked and abused them; isolated them from their friends and family; and depleted their “strength to say no” to a lasting pattern of abuse.

“The defendant’s victims aren’t groupies or gold diggers. They’re human beings,” Nadia Shihata, an assistant U.S. attorney, told jurors at the end of the trial. “They’re daughters, sisters, some are now mothers. And their lives matter.”

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