R. Kelly’s lawyer compared him to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr in the closing argument of the singer’s sex-trafficking trial Thursday. Deveraux Cannick urged the jurors to be courageous, arguing that both R. Kelly and King held the government to account, BBC reported.
R. Kelly is accused of grooming and sexually abusing women and underage girls. The charges include one count of racketeering and eight counts of illegally transporting people across state lines for the purpose of sex. Nine women and two men have so appeared in court to testify against the singer, claiming that he sexually abused them.
R. Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has denied all the charges against him. But prosecutors have accused him of being a predator who used his fame and influence to attract fans into his circle, where he would demand them to either obey him or be punished.
“For decades, the defendant recruited and groomed women, girls and boys for his own sexual gratification,” Elizabeth Geddes, a lawyer for the prosecution, told the jury. “With the help of his inner circle, he slowly isolated his victims, set rules and exacted punishment.”
“It is time to hold the defendant responsible for the pain he inflicted on each of his victims. It is now time for the defendant to pay for his crimes. Convict him.”
But defense lawyer Cannick said R. Kelly was living a “playboy life” because his record label painted him as a sex symbol. “Where’s the crime in that?” Cannick asked, portraying R. Kelly’s accusers as former fans and jilted lovers hoping to cash in on his fame.
“They’re monetizing. They know what the game is. They’re surviving off of R Kelly,” the lawyer claimed.
He said testimony by the accusers was full of lies, and that “the government let them lie”.
“Where the fairness to Robert? Where’s the integrity of the system?”
Cannick subsequently compared R. Kelly’s case to the struggle led by King for equal protections under the U.S. Constitution.
“And that’s all that Robert wants; to make [the government] true to what it says on paper,” he said.
“I told you about Dr King and the people of courage for a reason,” Cannick said. “Getting a conviction of R Kelly is a big deal, but a bigger deal is fairness.”
Cannick invoked King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech: “Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press.”
R. Kelly on Wednesday declined to testify in his own defense. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.