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Chicago judge declines to overturn R Kelly’s sex abuse conviction

By | Published on Friday 17 February 2023

R Kelly

The judge who oversaw the R Kelly trial in Chicago has declined to set aside the musician’s conviction and also knocked back his request for a retrial.

The trial in Chicago followed the earlier court case in New York, both focused on the sexual abuse allegations that had been made against Kelly for decades, and which were fully pushed into the spotlight by the 2019 ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary.

In the New York case, Kelly was found guilty of setting up and running a criminal enterprise to access and abuse women and teenagers. While in the Chicago court, he was convicted of three charges related to enticing minors to engage in criminal sexual activity and three more linked to him filming that sexual abuse of children.

Kelly’s lawyers subsequently filed papers seeking to have the jury’s verdict overturned or at least for a retrial to be instigated.

Declining both requests yesterday, judge Harry Leinenweber noted that he can only overturn the jury’s decision and acquit a defendant if the evidence presented by the government’s prosecutors “is insufficient to sustain the conviction”.

He added that “when analysing a motion for a judgment of acquittal, a court views the evidence in the light most favourable to the government”. Citing some legal precedent, he then noted that “a court may only overturn a conviction if ‘the record contains no evidence from which a rational jury could have returned a verdict of guilty'”.

Kelly’s lawyers had argued that prosecutors failed to present evidence to support various allegations made against their client during the court case. However, Leinenweber does not agree. “Looking at the evidence in the light most favourable to the government, the court finds that there was enough evidence to sustain a guilty verdict on all six counts Kelly was convicted of”, he stated.

Regarding the request for a retrial, that is only possible, Leinenweber wrote, citing more legal precedent, where a judge believes there is “a serious danger that a miscarriage of justice has occurred – that is, that an innocent person has been convicted”.

The Kelly side specifically argued that a retrial was justified because of false information provided by the prosecution in the trial. In doing so, they cited the influential 1959 Supreme Court case Napue v Illinois – which said false information can impact on a ruling in a criminal case even if said false information only affects the credibility of a witness in the eyes of the jury.

Team Kelly said the prosecution had given false information about what fees an expert witness was charging and also over whether or not one key witness – a victim of Kelly’s – was considering seeking restitution in relation to the case. However, Leinenweber concluded that those claims had “not met the requirements of Napue”, before adding “nor is this a case that requires a new trial in the interest of justice”.

So, the jury decision in the Chicago case stands. Prosecutors yesterday also confirmed they are pushing for a 25 year sentence in relation to the Chicago conviction, which should begin after the 30 year jail term the musician is currently serving from the New York case.

Kelly’s lawyer recently urged the judge to consider a sentence not longer than fourteen years, and to rule that that can be served concurrent to the New York sentence. As it is, the attorney stated, Kelly will be in jail until well into his 80s.