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R. Kelly Summer Of Reckoning: He May Spend Decades In New York Prison And Is To Stand Trial In Chicago

R. Kelly

R. Kelly Summer Of Reckoning: He May Spend Decades In New York Prison And Is To Stand Trial In Chicago

R&B singer R. Kelly, who was born in Chicago, hasn’t appeared in court since being found guilty by a jury in New York after years of sexual misconduct accusations.

Kelly, who was wearing a gray suit on that particular day in late September, maintained his composure as the decision was read out: guilty of racketeering conspiracy and eight other counts charging that he used his organization to entice and ensnare children to fulfill his predatory fantasies.

Kelly is about to face another day of judgment that could determine whether he ever walks free again as his time in prison approaches the three-year mark.

After several delays, Kelly will finally be sentenced on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. The hearing is expected to feature emotional testimonies from some of Kelly’s victims and reveal disturbing new information about Kelly’s troubled childhood in Chicago, where he rose from busking at “L” stations to becoming an international superstar.

Federal prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly to sentence Kelly to more than 25 years in prison, saying his racketeering conviction was part of a “long and pervasive history of enticing children to engage in sexual activity.”

“He lured young girls and boys into his orbit, often through empty or conditioned promises of assistance in developing a career in the entertainment industry or simply by playing into the minors’ understandable desire to meet and spend time with a popular celebrity,” prosecutors wrote.

February 2019 photograph of a bedroom in R. Kelly’s studio. Buildings Department of Chicago

Meanwhile, Kelly’s attorney has requested the obligatory minimum 10-year prison term in a court document that has not yet been made public.

Kelly’s new lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, told the Tribune that she had placed the paper under seal because it contained sensitive information about Kelly’s past, including allegations of sexual assault as a youngster, as well as information that would “implicate others” in wrongdoing. This week in court, more information ought to become available.

Prosecutors filed their response to the defense’s sentencing memo under seal, explaining that they did so because Bonjean filed hers that way, according to court records. Donnelly has ordered both sides to file paperwork by Sunday evening addressing whether they believe Kelly’s sentencing submission should be kept private.

Bonjean, who intends to challenge the conviction on appeal, said the judge’s role is to fashion a sentence “based on not just retribution, but based on rehabilitation and reasonableness.”

“This mob-justice mentality is not the way to go,” she said. “It’s not good for society and it doesn’t take into account the human being. … No matter how angry people are, R. Kelly is a human being.”

Regardless of the outcome, the legal woes for the Grammy-winning singer, whose hits include 1996′s “I Believe I Can Fly,” will not be over even with his sentencing.

Kelly also has a trial scheduled for August in a federal courtroom in Chicago, where the prosecution alleges that he and two other defendants manipulated a trial in Cook County in 2008 and paid others to repurchase embarrassing sex videos. Additionally, he is accused of sexual assault in four other charges that are now ongoing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. In Minnesota’s state court, Kelly is also charged with soliciting.

A last-minute agreement that would save additional trials is always a possibility, even if there has been no indication in court that plea negotiations on the other cases are in motion. If Kelly is given a lengthy sentence on Wednesday, the chances of it happening only rise.

The stark difference in sentencing requests

R. Kelly

Nearly 50 witnesses testified during Kelly’s trial in New York, which lasted nearly two months and followed stringent COVID-19 guidelines.

Overall, the seven-man, five-woman jury found Kelly guilty of 12 separate crimes related to the racketeering plot, including having intercourse with numerous underage females and a 1994 scheme to buy a fake Illinois ID for singer Aaliyah, then 15, so the two could wed unlawfully.

One of Kelly’s attorneys, Steve Greenberg, expressed optimism that the judge will take into account the fact that “someone who has been so brutally sexually assaulted as a youngster will often become an abuser themselves.” Kelly is a sex addict, according to Greenberg, not a psychotic pedophile who enjoys abusing children.

“I think if there was any evidence he was a pedophile, then the judge would be justified in giving a longer sentence, but this is a man who’s already had his entire life ripped out from under him,” Greenberg said. “His career is in shambles. When this is all done he’s going to be singing in the subway again.”

Greenberg continues to represent Kelly in his active Cook County charges, but he is no longer listed as the singer’s federal defense lawyer. The lawyers who finally represented Kelly at trial “had no idea what they were doing,” he claimed, and he was fired from the New York case as a result of conflicts among the legal team.

Following Kelly’s conviction, Bonjean, who was not a part of the New York trial, assumed control of her defense. She is scheduled to conduct Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. Kelly will have the opportunity to testify for himself before the judge makes her decision after presumably listening to lengthy arguments from Bonjean and the prosecution.

“He’s obviously here for sentencing based on the offenses that a jury found him guilty of,” Bonjean said. “But this one-dimensional sex predator monster (characterization) I think just doesn’t take into account the human being in the totality of the offense in totality.”

According to Bonjean, Kelly has a lengthy history of being sexually abused by her sister and a close family member. According to Bonjean, he was raised in poverty, witnessed domestic violence in his home, and lost a close childhood friend. She claimed that because he reads at an early elementary school level, it has been simple for those around him to control and take advantage of him.

For Kelly, who will turn 56 in January, the contrast between the opposing sentencing petitions could not be more pronounced. With credit for time previously served and the requirement that prisoners serve 85% of their sentences, a 10-year sentence would result in the defendant’s release in his early 60s.

Kelly would not experience freedom until well into his 70s, though, if the judge gives him a sentence that is closer to the amount that the prosecution has requested.

Rocky time behind bars

R. Kelly

On the evening of July 11, 2019, as Kelly walked his dog in front of the Trump Tower in downtown Chicago, federal agents and Chicago police officers approached him. These were Kelly’s final moments of freedom.

The singer was already out on bond in the Cook County trials brought five months earlier when federal prosecutors in both New York and Chicago presented shocking indictments against him that evening.

Despite months of pleadings from Kelly’s legal team, who argued anything from exposure to COVID-19 to physical assaults by convicts who targeted him because of his reputation, no bond would ever be granted for Kelly in his federal prosecutions.

It is true that his period in federal custody has been quite chaotic. In his early years at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, ardent supporters would demonstrate in front of the downtown prison. According to reports, this prompted jail officials to shut down the facility.

Records show that Jeremiah Shane Farmer, a different prisoner, broke into Kelly’s cell in August 2020 and repeatedly punched him in the head because he was upset about the lockdown. Farmer didn’t stop until a security guard pepper-sprayed him.

In a handwritten court filing, Farmer, a Latin King gang member who was sentenced to life for his role in a 1999 double murder, later said he attacked Kelly “due to the most blatant corruption in Farmer’s case and being (on) lockdown for Robert Kelly protest.”

According to Kelly’s counsel, he sustained a severe concussion that left him with discomfort and migraines for months.

The Tribune stated that a Bureau of Prisons official in Wisconsin was under investigation for allegedly accessing Kelly’s recorded phone calls and emails at the MCC a year later when Kelly was still in the middle of his New York trial. According to reports, the official gave them to a well-known YouTuber who boasted about her intimate information about Kelly’s life in prison and garnered hundreds of millions of views.

No one has been publicly charged in the probe. As part of Kelly’s federal proceedings in Chicago, Bonjean has requested access to materials related to the investigation. In a court filing last month, she wrote she has “a good faith basis to believe that the stolen information was also provided to a government informant who may have shared said information with government witnesses at the behest of the government.”

Ahead of Kelly’s New York trial, he was transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he has been in custody ever since. It was at that facility that Kelly was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year, according to his attorneys. The omicron variant surge that swept through the country last winter did not spare the Brooklyn jail, which saw a spike in cases.

At some point soon after his sentencing, Kelly will be back in his hometown, likely detained once again at the MCC on West Van Buren Street, three years after he first arrived.

A Chicago trial

R. Kelly

A tiny group of ardent Kelly supporters made their presence known during Kelly’s trial in New York last summer, setting up camp in a park next to the Brooklyn courtroom where they brandished placards, yelled against government overreach, and played Kelly’s songs loudly.

But when Kelly’s trial gets underway in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on August 15, things are likely to look very different. Kelly has maintained a sizable fan base in his hometown despite decades-long claims of sexual misbehavior, and a much larger group of admirers is sure to congregate in Chicago’s Loop to watch the action.

The trial itself will unfold in the courthouse’s large ceremonial courtroom on the 25th Floor, the only room large enough to accommodate Kelly and his two co-defendants — longtime manager Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown — as well as attorneys, jurors, reporters, and spectators.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber announced last week that a special jury pool will be summoned to cull out potential jurors who would obviously be unable to sit through the anticipated at least one month-long trial.

Although Kelly is in detention and won’t be entering and exiting the courthouse through the lobby every day, security is expected to be increased to accommodate any crowds, unlike in his infamous trial in 2008.

Kelly was found guilty of several charges in New York, including grooming Jerhonda Johnson Pace, a young “superfan” who drew his attention while watching his trial in the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th and California.

The pace was the first witness for the prosecution at the trial, and she told the jury that Kelly repeatedly sexually assaulted her over months despite knowing she was only 16 years old, making her wear baggy clothing and calling him “Daddy” as part of an increasing campaign of physical abuse and control. Pace was the first prosecution witness to testify at the trial.

A videotape showing the singer spanking a young woman and making her parade naked in front of him was one of the pieces of evidence the jury saw. Later, the judge ordered that media outlets be given access to audio portions of the tape.

“Keep your eyes closed,” Kelly can be heard saying at one point. “Eyes open? Guess what — we start over.”

Kelly’s instruction was followed by the sound of a series of slaps, and the woman could be heard sobbing. Afterward, she is heard weeping as Kelly makes her say, over and over, “I’m a stupid (expletive) daddy, I want you to fix me.”

Kelly’s lawyer, Bonjean, has argued that Pace’s testimony should not be given added weight because it was clear from the trial record that she misrepresented her age to Kelly.

“The trial record refutes any suggestion that Defendant did anything in altering the behavior of Jerhonda. Quite the opposite. Jerhonda, a sophisticated 16-year-old, took great pains to get close to Defendant, including by misrepresenting her age,” the defense filing stated. “Defendant did nothing to seek out Jerhonda.”

In their filing asking for a sentence of more than 25 years in prison, prosecutors in New York said that being charged in Cook County did not affect Kelly’s sexual misdeeds.

“If anything, the defendant’s acquittal after his state trial appears to have emboldened the defendant with a belief that he was untouchable,” prosecutors wrote in their 31-page sentencing memo, “and, over the next decade, the defendant’s crimes continued unabated.”

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