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After 6 Weeks, The Trial Against R. Kelly Is Almost Over


The federal trial against R. Kelly in New York has gone on for six weeks now. Fifty witnesses have testified in total. Some were alleged victims accusing the R&B star of physical and sexual abuse. Others were former employees of Kelly who defended him under oath. Closing arguments are wrapping up, and it could go to the jury any day now. NPR arts desk reporter Andrew Limbong is here to tell us more about where the case stands.

Hey, Andrew.


FADEL: So before we get into this, I just want to warn listeners we're going to be discussing alleged sex crimes here. OK, Andrew, let's take a step back. R. Kelly, real name Robert Sylvester Kelly, has been in jail awaiting trial for years now. What's he being charged with?

LIMBONG: The big overarching charge is racketeering. You know, that means the government has been trying to show Kelly at the head of a criminal enterprise. It's something similar to a mob boss in an organized crime case. The argument is that Kelly and his team of assistants and girlfriends and drivers used his fame to lure potential victims. Now, that racketeering charge rests on what's called predicate acts, which are the crimes allegedly committed within that enterprise. And that includes kidnapping, forced labor and sexual exploitation of children. And he's also being charged with transporting women and girls across state lines to engage in criminal activity. And we should say Kelly has denied any wrongdoing.

FADEL: So what has the jury heard so far? Let's start with the government prosecutors, what they presented.

LIMBONG: Yeah. The government brought forward 45 witnesses. And 11 of those were alleged victims of Kelly, and more than half of those were minors when the alleged crimes occurred. Many of the accusers shared similar stories of meeting Kelly, you know, often after a concert and then being handed his phone number by an assistant of his. One woman who was in an on-again-off-again long-term relationship with Kelly lived with him and described the different rules he had for his girlfriends. You know, they couldn't talk to other men, and they had to dress in baggy clothing, and they couldn't go to and from rooms without permission from either Kelly or one of his assistants.

And something that came up a lot in the witness testimony was Kelly's tendency to document everything on an iPad. He'd record his sexual encounters and him punishing his girlfriends. And he'd record them doing degrading things to themselves that he had forced them to do. And he'd also make his alleged victims write letters with these false accusations that he could use to imply plots against him in case he got in trouble. For instance, one woman had to write a letter apologizing for the blackmail scheme her mother had planned. And to be clear, she testified there was no blackmail scheme and that R. Kelly had forced her to write that letter.

FADEL: So witnesses painting a disturbing picture. What's been the defense's response?

LIMBONG: The defense has been painting a lot of the women accusing Kelly as just, like, jealous girlfriends who, you know, knew what they were getting into when they entered into a relationship with Kelly and that they were in it for the money and glamour his lifestyle afforded. When it was the defense's time to bring up witnesses, they only called five, most of which were people who worked with Kelly. One childhood friend who was a former Chicago police officer worked as a bodyguard for Kelly, said he never saw Kelly with any underage girls. But then he backtracked on it, saying he did see him with the late pop star Aaliyah, who, you know, was 15 years old when she married R. Kelly.

FADEL: So soon this will all be up to the jury.

NPR's Andrew Limbong, thank you for joining us.

LIMBONG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.