R. Kelly's legal team presents witnesses in what is likely the final week of arguments
Published Tuesday, September 21, 2021 11:33PM EDT
Since Monday, R. Kelly's attorneys have presented a defence case with witnesses who said they never saw Kelly abuse women but who conceded they weren't present much of the time Kelly was alone with female guests.
Jurors have listened to nearly a month of prosecution witnesses testifying about Kelly's role as the alleged leader of a criminal enterprise. The witnesses ranged from women who accused Kelly of sexual abuse, physical abuse and even being kept in rooms where they had to ask for permission to leave or use the restroom, to former employees of Kelly who were tasked with helping women and girls travel to the singer's various tour locations.
Kelly is facing charges including racketeering and sex trafficking, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Among the witnesses the defence has called so far are Larry Hood, a former Chicago police officer who pleaded guilty to felony forgery charges and who referred to some of the people hanging out in Kelly's studio as "little hype girls" in his testimony. A former musical collaborator, Dhanai Ramnaran, testified he was never on Kelly's payroll but worked with him for 15 years. Jeff Meeks, a former runner for Kelly, testified he once saw a woman attempting to leave Kelly's studio.
John Holder, an accountant who worked for Kelly a year before the singer's arrest, testified about creating a document that labeled Kelly as the leader of "RSK Enterprises" -- an odd choice for a defence witness as Kelly's legal team is fighting prosecutors' allegation that he was the leader of a criminal enterprise.
Defence attorneys are expected to wrap up their case Wednesday, and prosecutors and defence attorneys will likely give closing arguments Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly said in court Tuesday. Kelly is not expected to testify, defence attorney Deveraux Cannick said in court Tuesday.
Hood, who was an active-duty Chicago police officer when he served as a private security guard for Kelly from 2002 to 2004 while off duty, testified he would not lie for the singer, whom he has known since they met in grammar school. Hood also testified, when questioned by defence attorney Calvin Scholar, that he never saw Kelly with underage girls and never saw Kelly strike a woman or lock a woman in a room.
"As a police officer, I would have had to take action against that," Hood testified.
When questioned by federal prosecutor Nadia Shihata about seeing the late singer Aaliyah around Kelly's studio, Hood called her friends who accompanied her to Kelly's studio "some little hype girls" but said he did not check IDs at Kelly's studio.
Aaliyah married Kelly when she was 15, according to documents shown in court and witness testimony.
When Shihata questioned Hood about entering a guilty plea for felony forgery in a case related to counterfeit $100 bills, Hood said, "I was not aware that the money was fake."
"So you weren't telling the truth when you were in court under oath?" Shihata asked him.
"Yes," Hood replied.
Ramnaran, who testified on Monday that he was not on Kelly's payroll but worked on music with Kelly "on a daily basis" for 15 years, said he never saw Kelly strike a woman, verbally abuse a woman or deny a woman food during his time with the singer. He said women who spent time with Kelly could leave to get something to eat or go to the bathroom "just like the rest of us."
"I just never really paid attention to them," Ramnaran testified, of seeing Kelly's female guests during his time in the recording studio.
Jeff Meeks testified Tuesday that he worked with Kelly off and on starting in 2002, and continued to work with him on projects until Kelly's arrest in 2019. Like other defence witnesses, Meeks quickly testified on direct examination that he did not see underage girls at Kelly's recording studio during the time he worked there, that he didn't see women locked in rooms and didn't see rooms with locks on the outside of doors at the studio.
Federal prosecutor Maria Cruz Melendez questioned Meeks about statements he made that he once saw a girl attempting to leave Kelly's studio and that he asked a coworker, "What do we do?" Meeks testified he remembered the incident and that after the coworker determined they should let the person leave, he was "relieved."
"It's fair to say you don't want to see the defendant convicted, right?" Melendez asked.
"That's fair," Meeks replied.
A former accountant for Kelly, John Holder, also took the stand Tuesday and testified he worked for Kelly in the 18 months before the singer's arrest on federal charges in 2019. Holder testified he discussed Kelly's finances starting in 2018, where the finances stood and "the direction we need to go in to build his wealth."
"Mr. Kelly decided who got paid and I gave him the checks," Holder testified.
He told the court he would sometimes meet with Kelly multiple times a day for as many as 12 hours a day at his Chicago studio, and testified that he never saw Kelly abuse his girlfriends. When cross-examined by prosecutors, he conceded he did not see Kelly's interactions with women behind closed doors.
"On most occasions they (Kelly's girlfriends) were upstairs and you were downstairs, correct?" prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes asked.
"Correct," Holder testified.
As Geddes introduced a chart that Holder created for Kelly as evidence --- a drawing of an octopus that labeled Kelly the CEO of "RSK Enterprises LLC" -- defence attorneys objected to the document being entered as evidence, while Geddes argued it was a document Holder created to show Kelly's enterprise.
"He was the leader of it, correct?" Geddes said.
"It was his company. Yes," Holder testified.
At the heart of prosecutors' case is their allegation that Kelly was the head of a criminal enterprise whose purpose was to "promote R. Kelly's music and the R. Kelly brand and to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly."