CHICAGO– Lawyers for R. Kelly began mounting a defense Thursday in Chicago against federal charges of child pornography, inciting minors for sex and fixing his 2008 state trial, with a first witness claiming the singer was himself a victim of blackmail.
The presentation to the jurors will not include Kelly on the witness stand.
Judge Harry Leinenweber asked Kelly directly Thursday morning if he wanted to testify, and the Grammy Award winner replied that he would not.
The judge raised the issue minutes before lawyers for Kelly and two co-defendants began calling their first witnesses, working to counter two weeks of government testimony – including from four women who accused Kelly of sexual abuse.
Co-defendant Derrel McDavid, a longtime Kelly business manager, is accused of helping Kelly rig the 2008 trial, in which Kelly was acquitted. McDavid said he would testify. Co-defendant Milton Brown is charged with receiving child pornography. Like Kelly, he said he wouldn’t testify.
Testifying would have been risky. At times, Kelly exploded in anger under tough questions, which could hurt her defense.
He lost his temper in a 2019 interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.” As she pressed him with accusations of sexual abuse, he stood up, crying and gesticulating. “I didn’t do that thing!” he shouted. ” It is not me ! I’m fighting for my… life!
Lawyers for the three defendants essentially share witnesses. McDavid’s legal team called the first defense witness, McDavid’s friend and former police officer Christopher G. Wilson. He testified that McDavid told him in 2001 that a merchandising agent for Kelly, Charles Freeman, was trying to blackmail the R&B star.
Freeman testified earlier for the government that Kelly and his associates agreed to pay him $1 million to track down and return a video featuring Kelly, describing how he was handed bags full of cash as payment. He said the money was for services rendered, not an offer of extortion. Prosecutors say the payments were part of a plot to obstruct investigators leading to Kelly’s 2008 trial.
During cross-examination, Wilson acknowledged that he had not directly witnessed any extortion attempts by Kelly, saying he relied on what McDavid told him.
A conviction on just one or two of the charges at the Chicago trial could add years to a 30-year sentence that Kelly already received from a New York federal judge in June for racketeering and sex trafficking convictions.
Through witnesses on Thursday, the defense also sought to raise doubts about the ages of a few accusers, saying at least one of them may have been 17, the age of consent in Illinois, when Kelly sued her for sex.
There was nothing necessarily sinister about Kelly or his employees dealing with the money, another defense witness, former Kelly studio intern Tom Arnold, told jurors. Kelly rarely used his own credit cards and preferred cash transactions, added Arnold, who said he once brought Kelly $125,000 in a backpack.
The highlight of the prosecutors’ presentation was the testimony two weeks ago of a 37-year-old woman who used the pseudonym “Jane.” She described Kelly sexually assaulting her hundreds of times beginning in 1998, when she was 14 and Kelly was around 30.
Closing arguments are expected to take place in the middle of next week.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm. Find full AP coverage of the R. Kelly trial at https://apnews.com/hub/r-kelly.