Artist News Legal

R Kelly fails to secure prison release as a result of COVID-19 concerns

By | Published on Wednesday 8 April 2020

R Kelly

A judge has declined to let R Kelly out of jail despite concerns that his chances of contracting COVID-19 are much higher while he remains within the prison system.

The music star is currently in jail in Chicago awaiting multiple trials over allegations of sexual abuse. He is one of many prisoners in the US seeking to get out of prison – and instead await his trials under house arrest – because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, last week prosecutors opposed that request. They argued that, aged 53 and with no underlying health conditions, Kelly wasn’t in any high risk group if he did contract the disease. They also insisted that the US prison system was taking the pandemic seriously and putting measures in place to restrict and delay the spread of the virus.

Prosecutors added that, given the crimes he is accused of and additional allegations of witness tampering during a past prosecution, there were genuine concerns about allowing Kelly out of jail, even if he agreed to comply with house arrest restrictions.

Yesterday judge Ann M Donnelly sided with the prosecution. She wrote: “While I am sympathetic to the defendant’s understandable anxiety about COVID-19, he has not established compelling reasons warranting his release”.

She added that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the specific Chicago jail where Kelly is incarcerated, and that “the Bureau Of Prisons has announced emergency measures to protect inmates and staff, including suspending all legal and social visits, suspending inmate facility transfers, making soap available to inmates, screening and testing inmates and staff, and modifying operations at detention facilities … to maximise social distancing”.

Sharing the prosecution’s concerns, the judge went on: “[Kelly] is currently in custody because of the risks that he will flee or attempt to obstruct, threaten or intimidate prospective witnesses. The defendant has not explained how those risks have changed”.

Kelly’s lawyers had also argued that, because prison visits are not currently allowed due to COVID-19 measures, they couldn’t properly prepare for their client’s trial. But the judge said communications could continue by phone and email, and that the current schedule for Kelly’s case is likely to slip anyway as a result of the pandemic, and therefore “as conditions return to normal, [Kelly] and his lawyers will have additional time to prepare for trial”.

A number of other high profile prisoners in the US have likewise sought release as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, in jail in New York, ultimately secured early release because of COVID-19 concerns. He was considered to be in a high-risk group because of his severe asthma.