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Defence calls its first two witnesses in R Kelly trial

By | Published on Tuesday 21 September 2021

R Kelly

The prosecution rested its case in the R Kelly trial in New York yesterday, with the defence then calling its first two witnesses, two men who had both worked with the musician over a number of years. Both claimed that they’d never seen any of the sexual or physical abuse previously described during the court case.

One of those witnesses was an aspiring rapper and R Kelly fan called Dhanai ‘Da-Ni’ Ramanan, who first met the musician in the mid-2000s. He told the court that he was with Kelly on an almost daily basis up to 2019 and that he’d never witnessed the star abusing his entourage of girlfriends in the way that numerous witnesses who spoke earlier in the trial had alleged.

For their part, the prosecution questioned Ramanan’s claims that he was part of Kelly’s inner circle, showing photos from a number of the musician’s tours since the mid-2000s in which the witness was not present. They then argued that Ramanan was not, in fact, a constant presence around Kelly, and therefore it was reasonable to suggest that he simply wasn’t present when the abuse occurred.

The other defence witness to appear was a former Chicago police officer called Larry Hood, who knew Kelly when they were both at school and who subsequently had stints working in security for the musician. He told the court that he’d never seen Kelly act in an abusive way towards his girlfriends, adding that – as a policeman – he’d have been compelled to act if he had witnessed any such conduct.

When cross-examining Hood, the prosecution sought to both pick holes in his testimony, as well as questioning his credibility as a witness, by revealing that he left Chicago PD after pleading guilty to possessing and using forged money.

It wasn’t an especially strong start from the defence side, which was also criticised by the judge for changing its list of first day witnesses at the last minute. And then it turned out that a third person who was on the revised witness list – and who was due to testify yesterday – wasn’t even in New York.

In the final testimonies presented by the prosecution on Friday and yesterday morning, another former assistant to Kelly, Cheryl Mack, discussed the way in which the musician sought to assert control over his entourage, explaining how she’d been forced to sign an apology letter – which also included a false admission of accepting kickbacks from an agent – after she supposedly “ruined” a birthday surprise for a stylist who had worked with the star.

She also confirmed that she had witnessed Kelly assert similar control over other women. Meanwhile, when another young female artist Mack was working with accused Kelly of sexual harassment, he told her that she had to “pick a team”, adding that “people come up missing” in situations like this.

The prosecution’s very final witness was a clinical and forensic psychologist, who was basically called to address a question frequently raised by the defence during the trial, which is – if Kelly was abusing his girlfriends in the way they claim – why did so many of them stay with the musician for so long?

Dawn Hughes was not there to comment on any of the specific claims made by Kelly’s alleged victims, but instead to discuss her work with hundreds of other victims of abuse.

She explained how abusers slowly increase their control over their victims over a period of time, in a way that often makes a victim seek to rationalise the abusive behaviour. At the same time, the abuser often cuts off the victim’s connections with friends and family, removing the kind of support that would make it easier for the victim to leave the abuser.

The defence say that they only plan to call about half a dozen more witnesses, which could mean that jury deliberations begin by the end of the week. Kelly himself is not expected to testify.