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R Kelly defence lawyer cites Martin Luther King during closing arguments in sex abuse trial

By | Published on Friday 24 September 2021

R Kelly

After presenting just five lack-lustre witnesses to testify in defence of R Kelly – compared to 45 for the prosecution – a lot was resting on his defence team’s closing arguments at the musician’s trial yesterday. And to that end, attorney Deveraux Cannick addressed the jury for about two and a half hours, name-checking Hugh Hefner, Mike Pence and Martin Luther King along the way.

Cannick’s closing arguments pretty much echoed – although expanded on – what the defence team had said at the very start of their client’s trial: that Kelly simply lived a rock n roll lifestyle, and while his sexual kinks may seem unusual, they weren’t in of themselves illegal. The alleged victims who testified for the prosecution, meanwhile, were simply groupies who knew what they were getting themselves into.

Kelly’s label “marketed him as a sex symbol, a playboy”, Cannick declared, “so he started living that sex symbol, playboy lifestyle. Where’s the crime in that?” And as for the alleged victims, he added, “some of the witnesses, just lie after lie after lie … and the government let them lie”.

Hugh Hefner was name-checked in the context of Kelly’s supposed ‘playboy’ lifestyle, while former US Vice President Pence got a mention in reference to the musician insisting his girlfriend’s call him ‘daddy’. That’s not so strange, the lawyer declared, before noting how Pence supposedly calls his wife ‘mother’.

The MLK comparisons related to his client’s bid to enforce the US Constitution. “That’s all Robert is trying to do”, the lawyer said. “If the government brings charges against you, the government has to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Beyond the various allegations of physical and sexual abuse that have been made against Kelly, the prosecution’s wider case centres on the claim that the star built and led a sophisticated criminal enterprise that allowed him to target, groom and exploit girls, boys, and young women for his own sexual gratification.

But, Cannick argued, the prosecution had failed to show any such enterprise existed. “R Kelly didn’t have to recruit women”, the attorney added, before telling the jury that his client “doesn’t need your sympathy – he just needs your sense of fairness and courage”.

The prosecution’s rebuttal came from Assistant US Attorney Nadia Shihata, who took particular aim at the defence’s repeated portrayal – both in Cannick’s closing arguments and throughout the trial – of Kelly’s alleged victims as groupies who knew what they were getting into, and who were now misrepresenting their time with the star for financial gain.

“It’s like we took a time machine and went back to a courthouse in the 1950s”, Shihata said. “What they’re arguing is that all of these women and girls were asking for it, and they deserved what they got – never mind that many of them were teenagers, too young to consent”.

With both sides having now presented their full cases, jury deliberations can begin.