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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Will R. Kelly's New Lawyer Get Him Acquitted?


R. Kelly’s new lawyer asked for an acquittal in his sex crimes case on Thursday, February 17, arguing that prosecutors were influenced by the Me Too movement in bringing charges that didn’t fit the allegations against him. Prosecutors were “invigorated by an influential social movement determined to punish centuries of male misbehavior through symbolic prosecutions of high-profile men,” Jennifer Bonjean, who successfully appealed Bill Cosby’s conviction, wrote in court filings. 

Bonjean claimed that Kelly’s former lawyers didn’t provide competent representation, describing them as a “disjointed, unprepared trial team with no singular defense strategy.” Bonjean is also asking for a new trial in Kelly’s case.

The “I Believe I Can Fly” singer was found guilty on all counts in his Brooklyn federal court trial on September 27, 2021. Kelly, 55, was charged with one count of racketeering and eight Mann Act counts, a statute that prohibits transporting people across state borders for illegal sexual activity.

Prosecutors described the disgraced R&B star as a “predator, a man who for decades used his fame, his popularity, and a network of people at his disposal to target, groom, and exploit girls, boys, and young women for his own sexual gratification.” They argued that Kelly’s abuse was not just a series of isolated instances of abuse but instead was conducted as an organized criminal enterprise — which is where the racketeering charge stems from. Federal prosecutors used specific claims of sexual misconduct, such as grooming minors to psychological manipulation, to argue their racketeering case. During Kelly’s trial, the prosecution called 45 witnesses. Eleven of these witnesses were Kelly’s accusers; nine were women, two men. The charges involved six women: Jerhonda Pace, Jane, Stephanie, Sonja, Faith, and late singer Aaliyah. Kelly is scheduled to be sentenced on May 4, 2022. Prosecutors maintained that Kelly and his crew had a “common purpose of achieving the objectives of the Enterprise” to prop up his music and brand while luring victims into unlawful, abusive sexual activity.

In her new motions, Bonjean argued that the racketeering charge, formally named the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, didn’t apply in Kelly’s case, and that using this law went beyond its legal intent. She argued that prosecutors didn’t prove there was a criminal enterprise, writing that “despite its bullying tactics, the government came up short on evidence that all of Defendant’s employees who made up this vague enterprise were working as a continuing unit to ensure Defendant could engage not just in sex, but illegal sex.”

At one point in Bonjean’s legal argument, she said that “the government constructed a RICO theory of prosecution designed not to ‘effectuate the purpose’ of the RICO statute, but to prosecute the Defendant for alleged misdeeds going back decades without pesky statutes of limitations obstacles.” Bonjean also claimed that prosecutors erred in prosecuting Kelly under the Mann Act.

“While the Mann Act may be an effective tool for combating human trafficking, it was not designed to punish sexual misconduct like that alleged against Defendant,” Bonjean wrote. “Where Defendant’s alleged transportation of females (largely consenting adults) was incidental to his travels as a world-renown performer, he is not guilty of Mann Act violations. If the government intends to prosecute Mann Act violations in the fashion it did here, it might consider investigating the many influential, wealthy, mostly White, corporate leaders who frequently arrange travel for paramours who later conclude that the experience was less than pleasant.”

As for Bonjean’s argument that Kelly received inadequate representation, she argued that his lawyers dropped the ball during jury selection, failing to challenge then-prospective jurors who provided worrisome answers on screening questionnaires. Some of the people ultimately picked for the jury had seen the documentary Surviving R. Kelly, while others expressed views that raised red flags about impartiality. Bonjean pointed to Juror No. 4 as an example of this, and included a copy of several questions and answers to illustrate her point.

“The charge in this case involves allegations regarding exposure to one or more sexually transmitted diseases. Is there anything about such an allegation that you believe would affect your ability to serve as a fair and impartial juror?” the questionnaire asked.

“Yes,” the juror responded. “I find transmission of STDs in a nonconsensual act to be particularly repulsive.”

The juror also said that a close friend received asylum “due to sexual assault and infection with HIV from the police in a foreign country.” In response to the question “Which publicly known person do you least admire?” the juror answered “Jeffrey Epstein” — the notorious sex predator who targeted girls as young as 14. Another juror said in their questionnaire that they had heard about Kelly’s sex with minors through “parodies on TV regarding details of defendant’s personal life (SNL, Dave Chappelle).”

Bonjean also argued that one of the alternate jurors exhibited questionable behavior during Kelly’s trial, when it came to the presence of high-profile attorney Gloria Allred — who has represented several of his victims. “During the middle of trial, the juror asked a courtroom deputy if she could obtain an autograph from Allred. When asked by the court why she wanted the autograph, the juror responded, ‘Because I admire her. Just ’cause, you know, other cases. I’ve never heard — I didn’t know she was gonna be here, I just admire her for what she’s accomplished,’” Bonjean wrote.

The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office did not comment on Bonjean’s paperwork. Vulture jointly emailed Kelly’s former attorneys for comment; one of them, Thomas Farinella, replied: “No comment at this time.” Kelly still faces charges in Chicago federal court. That trial is expected to start in August.

1 comment:

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