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Defence calls initial witnesses in latest R Kelly trial

By | Published on Monday 5 September 2022

R Kelly

The defence started presenting their arguments in the latest R Kelly trial last week. Things got underway with the confirmation that Kelly himself will not testify, but his former business manager Derrel McDavid, a co-defendant in the case, will.

Kelly, of course, is facing a new round of charges, this time in his hometown of Chicago, in relation to the allegations of sexual abuse that have followed him around for decades. McDavid and another co-defendant, Milton ‘June’ Brown, are accused of helping Kelly cover up that abuse during an earlier criminal investigation back in the 2000s.

The musician was not expected to testify, he having not provided any testimony at his previous two trials, ie the 2008 trial, also in Chicago, where he was acquitted, and last year’s trial in New York where he was found guilty of running a criminal enterprise to access and abuse women and teenagers. And on Thursday, when asked if he would testify this time, he told the judge, simply, “No – I’m not going to testify”.

Brown also confirmed that he will not testify, while McDavid on the other hand confirmed that he will. His lawyers had already said their client planned to speak during the court proceedings, and he is now likely to take to the witness stand tomorrow.

Another expected confirmation that came on Thursday was judge Harry Leinenweber rejecting a motion from the defendants to acquit them of all charges without any jury deliberations. That motion was filed as the prosecution rested their case earlier last week. Such motions are routine in trials of this kind and very rarely have a positive outcome for the defendants, as was the case here.

As the respective defence attorneys for Kelly, McDavid and Brown started calling witnesses last week, it became even clearer what line of argument each team is mainly pursing.

Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean seems most keen to question the timelines presented by anyone called to the witness stand by the prosecution, mainly to throw doubt on the claims by various accusers that they were underage when they first had sex with the musician. Where timelines seem confused, she suggests, maybe those accusers were actually seventeen when any sexual interactions began, that being the age of consent in the Kelly’s home state of Illinois.

According to the Chicago Tribune, that strategy involved questioning Merry Green, a witness who had worked on an event called Expo For Today’s Black Woman in the late 1990s and 2000s. One of Kelly’s accusers, Tracy, earlier told jurors that that is where she had met Kelly in 1999 when she was just sixteen. But, Green said, it was the 2000 expo where Kelly made a promotional appearance, by which time Tracy would have been seventeen.

Green conceded that Kelly could have also attended the 1999 expo in an unofficial capacity. However, she reckoned, if a pop star of his stature was at the event even in an unofficial capacity it is likely she would have been notified, and she has no recollection of receiving any such notification.

McDavid’s team are keen to prove that their client did not attend various meetings in the 2000s where the cover up of Kelly’s crimes was discussed, contrary to claims made by prosecution witnesses. They also argue that McDavid was legitimately under the impression that Kelly was keen to recover various sex tapes that had leaked because they were embarrassing to him and his wife, not because they showed the star sexually abusing minors.

Lawyers for McDavid questioned a former Chicago police officer and old friend of McDavid’s – Christopher G Wilson – who recalled once accompanying a private investigator to Kansas City, at the request of Kelly’s one time business manager, in order to interview someone suspected of being involved in an attempt to blackmail the musician over the sex tapes.

Those meetings in Kansas City were previously mentioned by prosecution witness Charles Freeman, who claims he was hired by Kelly and McDavid to retrieve videos showing the musician having sex with underage girls. But Freeman claimed McDavid was at those meetings himself, whereas Wilson denied that was the case.

The McDavid team also called Ronald Winters, who was personal assistant to the late lawyer who represented Kelly in his 2008 trial. Winters had seen some of the sex tapes filmed by Kelly that were circulating in the 2000s.

He told the court that the women in those tapes did not appear to be underage and that at least one featured a threesome seemingly involving Kelly’s wife. The musician was particularly keen to retrieve that tape, it’s argued, because his wife was embarrassed that it was doing the rounds.

Brown’s team are mainly keen to present their client as being a low level member of Kelly’s team with little knowledge of what was going on, and who therefore was unlikely to have knowingly got involved in any attempt to cover up his employer’s crimes in the 2000s.

They called another former Kelly employee called Tom Arnold who basically confirmed what it was like to be a low level member of the Kelly team, adding that he routinely handed over large amounts of cash on behalf of his boss without knowing what it was for.

The Kelly trial will resume tomorrow following today’s Labor Day holiday on the US.