R. Kelly’s lawyer references Martin Luther King, Jr. in closing arguments of New York trial

“Unlike Dr. King and those who were like-minded, you don’t have to worry about atrocities. You just have to be courageous and fair,” the singer's lawyer reportedly told the jury

Content warning: This story contains discussion and descriptions of sexual abuse

R. Kelly’s weeks-long trial in New York is coming to its end, as closing arguments were made in court yesterday.

The New York Times reports that a verdict is expected to be handed down today (September 24) after a final rebuttal from a federal prosecutor. The trial began on August 18, and addressed charges relating to Kelly’s alleged crimes against five female accusers – three of whom were purportedly underage at the time – who alleged physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

A slew of bombshell accusations have been made during the trial – some from witnesses speaking for the first time – including one claim that Kelly repeatedly forced a woman to have sex with another man as punishment, and another claim that Kelly had locked up a woman for days before assaulting her.

Kelly’s controversial relationship with the late R&B singer Aaliyah was also addressed in court. Earlier in September, a former backup performer said she witnessed Kelly sexually abuse Aaliyah when she was 13 or 14. The minster who officiated the illegal wedding also testified, saying he “didn’t think [the marriage] was [between] anybody special”. In August, an ex-tour manager for R Kelly testified that he paid a government worker for a fake ID in order to make the marriage happen.

Kelly did not take the stand throughout the trial, telling U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly on Wednesday that he did not wish to testify.

In his summation yesterday, Kelly’s head lawyer Deveraux Cannick defended the singer’s actions as that of “a sex symbol” and “playboy”, posing to jurors: “Where’s the crime in that? Some people just like kinky sex – not a crime.”

Cannick reportedly questioned the credibility of Kelly’s accusers, insinuating that one had made up her story about being raped and imprisoned by Kelly, and that another was “a stalker and a groupie extraordinaire”. He claimed that Kelly’s accusers had financial motivations, saying: “A lot of people watched Surviving R. Kelly, and now a lot of people are surviving off of R. Kelly.”

Cannick also reportedly invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. and the struggles of the civil rights movement, telling the jury that “unlike Dr. King and those who were like-minded, you don’t have to worry about atrocities. You just have to be courageous and fair.”

Cannick also referenced charges laid against Kelly alleging he’d convinced several women and girls to cross state lines so that he could commit sex crimes against them. “They are in relationships,” Cannick claimed, saying the actions were “just like you taking your girlfriend, your wife, your husband on business [trips]”.

In closing, Cannick told the jury: “They might not be the couple, the type of relationship that you endorse, but they all bought into it and they’re all consenting adults.”

Responding to Cannick’s statements – some of which, the Times reports, included arguments “that the women around Mr. Kelly had dressed scantily when they met or visited him” – assistant US attorney Nadia Shihata said: “It’s as if we took a time machine and went back to a courthouse in the 1950s. What [Cannick’s arguments are] basically insinuating is that all of these women and girls were asking for it and they deserved what they got.”

Kelly’s prosecutors delivered their closing arguments over a total of six hours, the Times reports, with assistant US attorney Elizabeth Geddes expounding on each of 14 accused crimes that Kelly allegedly committed.

“For decades, the defendant recruited and groomed women, girls and boys for his own sexual gratification,” Geddes said. “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: Aaliyah, Stephanie, Sonja, Jerhonda, Jane and Faith. It is now time for the defendant to pay for his crimes. Convict him.”

Geddes said that Kelly “used lies, manipulation, threats and physical abuse to dominate his victims”, and that his stature as one of the most prolific men in R&B allowed Kelly to “hide in plain sight”.

For help, advice or more information regarding sexual harassment, assault and rape in the UK, visit the Rape Crisis charity website. In the US, visit RAINN.

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