Chicago, IL — Closing arguments for the R. Kelly federal child pornography and obstruction trial began on Monday at Dirksen U.S. Courthouse with the prosecution detailing all 13 counts against the singer and delivering a timeline outlining their case. Prosecutors allege Kelly sexually abused minors, and along with his two co-defendants, worked to cover it up through two decades that included the 2008 trial for which he was acquitted.
Assistant U.S Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo detailed graphic scenes from video shown to the jury earlier in the trial, where Kelly is allegedly depicted molesting Jane, the 14-year-old girl central to the current trial and the one in 2008. “Who does this?” she asked. “Who covers it up?” She gestured to Kelly, and his co-defendants — former business manager Derrel McDavid and former employee Milton “June” Brown.
Using his position of power, she said Kelly “took advantage of Jane’s youth.”
“They did their level best” to keep Jane and other victims’ abuse under wraps, Pozolo added of the defendants. She called Kelly a “sexual predator,” but while the three conspired and “did their best, in the end, they failed.”
Kelly is facing multiple charges of coercing five minors into sex acts, and several charges related to producing child pornography. His co-defendant McDavid is charged on one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, two counts of receiving child pornography, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. (The latter charge was related to Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial that centered on a Jane Doe, with the videotape a focus of the current trial.) Kelly’s former employee Brown is also charged with receiving child pornography as part of an alleged effort to recover missing tapes that allegedly show Kelly engaged in sex acts with minors. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
On Monday, Pozolo walked the jury through the evidence presented during the last four weeks, beginning with the tapes Kelly recorded of him allegedly sexually abusing Jane. About 18 minutes of clips were played for the jury and heard in the courtroom during the trial from three tapes that varied in length from 21 minutes to more than 26 minutes.
She also worked to tie McDavid and Brown to the alleged cover-up. She reminded the jurors of witness testimony — from Charles Freeman, Lisa Van Allen and others — showing McDavid and Brown were not only allegedly aware of the tapes but actively worked to cover up their existence. This included big payoffs allegedly approved by McDavid and Brown allegedly assisted in retrieving the cash. Brown also appeared to be in Mexico and the Bahamas when Jane and her family were sent away to those locations while the investigation to the 2008 trial was underway.
Pozolo detailed witness testimony tying both men to their involvement in key meetings and actions tied to the conspiracy and obstruction counts. Pozolo also detailed three other victims’ accounts who testified during the trial — “Nia,” “Tracy” and “Pauline” — who accused Kelly of sexually abusing them when they were underage. Pozolo also discussed a fifth alleged survivor “Brittany” who did not testify, but both Jane and Pauline said they were involved in threesomes with her and Kelly when the girls were all underage.
McDavid’s boisterous attorney Beau Brindley disputed the claims during his closing arguments from witnesses whom he deemed liars — particularly Freeman, whom he called a “talentless, tactless T-shirt man” and Van Allen — whose testimony in the current trial and previous sworn testimony has been inconsistent, while also branding them as opportunists looking to extort Kelly. Moreover, he said McDavid is not guilty of any of the counts he is named in because he had no knowledge that the tapes contained Kelly allegedly engaged in illicit acts with minors. (McDavid testified that he never watched any of the tapes and was only acting as his expert legal team advised him.)
Brindley also reiterated the stance made during the trial that one of the videos named in the indictment — Video 4 — did not depict Van Allen, Jane and Kelly as prosecutors, Jane and Van Allen have claimed, but instead included Van Allen, Kelly and Kelly’s wife — all legal adults at the time. That assertion has also been adopted previously by Kelly’s legal team. All of this to say, according to Brindley, that there is more than enough reasonable doubt to not convict his client.
Following recess, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber announced that one juror, a white woman employed at a public library, had suffered a panic attack. She reported that she “doesn’t think she can go one minute more.” After no one objected to the judge’s proposal that they dismiss her, she was replaced by an alternate juror, a white man who appeared to be in his 60s. “I’ve never driven anyone to a panic attack,” Brindley joked. “Not a juror anyway.”
Mary Judge, Brown’s lead attorney followed that announcement, and promised that she wouldn’t yell as much as Brindley as she delivered her arguments. Kelly’s former assistant, who is accused of one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, has not been a major figure discussed during the last four weeks of trial, but during Pozolo’s closing arguments, she said, “Brown was not some innocent bystander who robotically made hotel reservations and drove people to the airport. Brown knew full well what was going on.”
Judge addressed jurors who may be wondering why Brown was named at all in the indictment: “You’re not alone,” she said, adding that there was “no proof” and that prosecutors had “failed miserably” at implicating her client, whom she painted as a low-level employee just doing his job. “The government is cherry-picking” information from the past 20 years, she said. “They are trying to create a fictional bond that didn’t exist,” Judge said. She added: “None of that proves he knew” about the tapes and that the prosecution had presented “zero evidence” against her client.
On Tuesday, the trial resumes with Kelly’s lead attorney Jennifer Bonjean expected to deliver closing arguments and a rebuttal from the government before jury instructions and deliberations begin.