Prosecutors finished their closing argument in R. Kelly’s racketeering trial at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, having laid out the case against him in painstaking detail over two days. The R&B singer’s defense lawyers were expected to deliver their closing arguments after a break.
The government’s closing began Wednesday, as an assistant U.S. attorney, Elizabeth Geddes, walked the jury through the charges against Mr. Kelly.
The racketeering count against him contains 14 individual acts, and Ms. Geddes went through each one, drawing on victim and witness testimony and cross-referencing their statements against phone records, travel records, and other evidence. It took Ms. Geddes six hours to finish her argument, a measure of the expansive breadth of the government’s case.
“For decades, the defendant recruited and groomed women, girls and boys for his own sexual gratification,” Ms. Geddes said. “With the help of his inner circle, he slowly isolated his victims, set rules and exacted punishment.”
She continued: “It is time to hold the defendant responsible for the pain he inflicted on each of his victims: Aaliyah, Stephanie, Sonja, Jerhonda, Jane and Faith. It is now time for the defendant to pay for his crimes. Convict him.”
Mr. Kelly has shown little emotion during the trial. But on Thursday, toward the end of Ms. Geddes’ closing — as she described in lurid detail the sex acts prosecutors say Mr. Kelly forced his victims to perform, and how he knowingly exposed them to herpes — Mr. Kelly could be seen on the courtroom video feed repeatedly shaking his head.
R. Kelly was a predator who destroyed the lives of the people around him and capitalized on his fame to prey on underage girls and boys and on women, a federal prosector said on Wednesday, as Mr. Kelly’s long-awaited criminal trial in Brooklyn neared its conclusion.
The prosecution’s closing argument, delivered by Elizabeth Geddes, will continue Thursday as the government seeks to convince the jury that Mr. Kelly was not only sexually and physically abusive, but used an extensive system of control and a network of associates to entrap people for sex and keep them from speaking out or going public with their accusations.
Mr. Kelly, once one of the brightest stars in R&B music, “used lies, manipulation, threats and physical abuse to dominate his victims,” Ms. Geddes said, adding that his immense wealth and fame allowed him to “hide in plain sight.”
Ms. Geddes’s closing arguments on Wednesday spanned three hours and illustrated the expansive breadth of the prosecution’s case against the singer — and the steep challenge his defense team has faced in the trial.
Mr. Kelly faces one count of racketeering, a charge that is built around 14 underlying crimes that prosecutors say he committed as part of the criminal scheme he led for decades. But the charge itself only requires that two of those crimes be proven.
In addition to the racketeering charge, Mr. Kelly is accused of eight violations of the Mann Act, a law barring sex trafficking across state lines. Mr. Kelly, 54, has pleaded not guilty and has long denied the accusations against him.
Armed with a large blackboard that showed Mr. Kelly near the center, surrounded by a network of associates, Ms. Geddes said that the singer’s inner circle and employees “served as enablers for his criminal conduct.”
She portrayed the people behind the music business that propelled Mr. Kelly to multiplatinum international stardom as the same group that offered condoms to his visitors and concocted a plot to marry Mr. Kelly to the singer Aaliyah when she was 15 and he feared she was pregnant.
“When someone commits a crime as part of a group, he’s more powerful — more dangerous,” Ms. Geddes said. “Without his inner circle, the defendant could not have carried out the crimes he carried out for as long as he did.”
Mr. Kelly’s trial has been years in the making. Allegations of sexual misconduct trailed the singer for years, even at the peak of his stardom. After he was finally arrested in 2019, the pandemic delayed his trial for more than a year. During that time, some of the singer’s allies were accused of using arson, bribery and other intimidation tactics to silence potential witnesses.
During the first portion of her closing arguments, Ms. Geddes walked through allegations related to three of the six women at the center of the case. Many of Mr. Kelly’s accusers over the years have been aspiring singers, lured by his fame and the promise of career boosts, but then exploited by the superstar, she said.
They included one woman who worked at a radio station and testified that she was thrilled when she was offered the opportunity to interview Mr. Kelly. But Ms. Geddes revisited her accounts with jurors, recalling that she said she was imprisoned at his Chicago home and raped in her sleep.
“When she arrived in Chicago, it wasn’t at all like she imagined,” Ms. Geddes told jurors. “Her big break had turned into her nightmare.”
Elizabeth Geddes, the assistant U.S. attorney delivering the closing statement at R. Kelly’s federal trial in Brooklyn this week, is an experienced prosecutor with a background in cases involving racketeering — the complex top charge that Mr. Kelly faces.
Ms. Geddes has worked in Brooklyn’s Eastern District for 15 years, where she currently heads the civil rights section of the office’s criminal division. During closing arguments this week, she has painstakingly worked her way through the underlying accusations against Mr. Kelly, seeking to convince jurors that he was at the center of a criminal enterprise that abused underage boys and girls, and women, for decades.
Ms. Geddes helped prosecute a large federal organized crime case in 2011, and the following year her case against the Colombo crime family led 38 defendants to plead guilty. Ms. Geddes later received the Bradford Award, bestowed to assistant U.S. attorneys for outstanding performance, based on “a variety of investigations and prosecutions resulting in the near complete dismantlement of the Colombo crime family.”
Racketeering charges are often used to prosecute organized crime, and in 2019 Ms. Geddes worked on a case that saw the indictment of another 20 defendants, including 11 Colombo crime family members and associates. That racketeering case involved accusations of extortion and loan-sharking.
Even as new accusers began to speak out against Mr. Kelly at the height of the MeToo movement, several women continued to stand alongside him.
But one who publicly defended Mr. Kelly in a widely viewed 2019 television interview has since joined the case against him. On Thursday, Elizabeth Geddes, an assistant U.S. attorney delivering the government’s closing argument at Mr. Kelly’s trial, told jurors that the woman’s earlier defense of Mr. Kelly demonstrated the dominance he held over her life.
“The defendant started to indoctrinate her when she was just 17,” Ms. Geddes said.
She said Mr. Kelly used several methods to control the woman, who testified under a pseudonym: physical abuse; threats of long term confinement; and brainwashing her into following his strict rules. Ms. Geddes recalled the woman’s testimony that she was underage and an aspiring singer when Mr. Kelly began sexually abusing her.
The woman’s testimony included some of the most graphic accounts of any accusers and lasted longer than any witness, including that she was once instructed to eat feces as discipline for not following his commands.
“The defendant’s way in his world is the right way — and the only way,” Ms. Geddes said.
She added that Mr. Kelly cut off the woman from other people in her personal life, telling her to delete social media and email accounts. “He was trying to isolate her and so many others,” Ms. Geddes said, “making it less likely that they would have the strength to walk away.”
The woman’s testimony is likely to be among the most crucial to the case’s outcome. Four counts of violations of the Mann Act, an anti-sex-trafficking law that the singer faces, center on her, and several of the underlying accusations in the racketeering charge also involve her.
But jurors will have to reconcile the woman’s disturbing testimony with the extensive cross-examination she faced from Mr. Kelly’s lawyers.
The singer’s defense team homed in on several discrepancies between her testimony and interviews she gave to federal officials beginning in January 2020, including that she named two different California cities as where she and the singer first had sexual intercourse.
The defense lawyers tried to cast her involvement with Mr. Kelly as an elaborate plot by her parents to lure the singer into sex with an underage girl and then blackmail and “exploit” him.
R. Kelly inspired intense fear in many of his accusers, including a woman who said he abused her after she broke one of his strict rules, Elizabeth Geddes, an assistant U.S. attorney, told jurors during her closing arguments on Thursday.
Ms. Geddes revisited the testimony of the woman, Jerhonda Pace, who said Mr. Kelly physically and sexually assaulted her as a teenager after she once failed to acknowledge him when he entered a room.
“The defendant was livid,” Ms. Geddes said. “He attacked her. He slapped her. He choked her until she passed out.”
She added: “Jerhonda violated one of the defendant’s cardinal rules” — and “he reminded her of everything he was capable of doing.”
The descriptions came on the second day of Ms. Geddes’s closing arguments at the end of Mr. Kelly’s five-week trial in New York. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.
Ms. Pace had told jurors that Mr. Kelly forced her to perform a sex act on him, after spitting in her and directing her to bow her head “in shame.” Ms. Geddes said there was no possible way for jurors to determine her behavior was not coerced, and that Ms. Pace “understood exactly what would happen” if she broke Mr. Kelly’s instructions again.
Ms. Pace said Mr. Kelly had begun having sex with her in 2009, when she was 16. She said that she initially told him she was 19 and that when she revealed her true age, it did not lessen Mr. Kelly’s interest in her.
Mr. Kelly’s lawyers have tried to portray Ms. Pace as a jealous “superfan” who concocted lies about him as he lost interest in her. “You were, in fact, stalking him, weren’t you?” Deveraux L. Cannick, one of the singer’s lawyers, said during cross-examination.
Ms. Pace said she was not.
Ms. Geddes drew attention to Ms. Pace’s composure throughout her time on the stand — and the emotion that was evident when she described Mr. Kelly slapping and beating her — to argue her accounts were truthful.
“For the first time during all of her testimony, she choked up,” Ms. Geddes said. “She broke down because it was painful for her to relive what happened to her that day.”
After a five-week trial that included searing accusations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse against the superstar R&B singer R. Kelly, prosecutors began 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’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 began 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.
— Rebecca Davis O’Brien
No matter the outcome of his federal trial in Brooklyn, R. Kelly still faces state and federal indictments in two other states, all stemming from what prosecutors describe as the R&B star’s sexual abuse of women and underage girls.
Federal prosecutors in Chicago hit Mr. Kelly in July 2019 with child pornography and obstruction charges. That trial has been pushed back several times because of the pandemic, and to allow Mr. Kelly’s Brooklyn trial to go first.
In February 2019, months before federal charges were announced, the Cook County state’s attorney indicted Mr. Kelly on aggravated criminal sexual abuse charges involving four victims, three of whom were underage at the time. Mr. Kelly has denied the allegations.
The state trial, a date for which has not been set, would be Mr. Kelly’s second criminal trial in Cook County — in 2008, he was acquitted on 14 counts of child pornography charges.
In Minnesota, Mr. Kelly was charged in August 2019 with engaging in prostitution with a minor. The following month, a Minneapolis judge issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Kelly after he failed to show up for a court hearing there. Prosecutors there said at the time that they weren’t likely to get access to Mr. Kelly until the Chicago charges were resolved, according to local news reports.
— Rebecca Davis O’Brien
The trial of the R&B superstar R. Kelly has featured some 50 witnesses across more than a month of testimony — a blizzard of sordid and sometimes grotesque accusations and counterclaims.
For help making sense of it all, hundreds of thousands of viewers have turned to YouTube, where a host who posts videos as thePLAINESTjane offers near-daily recaps that sometimes stretch 90 minutes long and include the same images and documents seen in the courtroom.
“Come on in, have a seat on my bus,” the presenter said at the outset of one recent video, sitting next to a house plant, a collage featuring a courtroom sketch of Mr. Kelly superimposed over her shoulder. “I’m going to pick you up and give you the rundown.”
The channel is just one cog in an expansive online ecosystem that has grown around Mr. Kelly as the accusations against him gained intense public attention in recent years. Now, his criminal trial in Brooklyn is at the center of a swirling social media world centered in Black communities where fierce critics of Mr. Kelly squabble with steadfast supporters, digging into details from the courtroom.
Thousand-member Facebook groups dissect PDF transcriptions of each individual witness’s testimony; accounts on Instagram post updates on the court day against colorful backgrounds; TikTok users break down the legal underpinnings of the racketeering charge against Mr. Kelly.
The online interest in Mr. Kelly’s trial stands apart from earlier high-profile cases involving rich and famous men accused of sexual misconduct and underscores the unique racial and generational dynamics at the center of the case.
The singer’s smooth melodies and charismatic persona captivated many Black households from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. And the majority of Mr. Kelly’s accusers are Black women — many of whom were adolescents or young adults when they say Mr. Kelly abused them.
“R. Kelly had a particular talent to make songs that resonated with Black audiences,” said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of Black popular culture at Duke University. “When you think about a song like ‘Step in the Name of Love,’ that’s something you were apt to hear at a 5-year-old’s birthday party and also a 50th wedding anniversary party.”
He added: “Many Black folks grew up in a context where R. Kelly was literally the soundtrack of their lives.”