CHICAGO (Reuters) - R&B star R. Kelly’s child pornography trial went to the jury on Thursday with prosecutors calling him a sexual predator and his attorneys saying he is wrongly accused and possibly the victim of an extortion plot.
In closing arguments to the 12-person jury, Cook County Prosecutor Robert Heilingoetter said Kelly preyed on young girls and was clearly the man on a videotape exploiting a teenage protege as young as 13.
“The opportunity to hold him (Kelly) responsible ... will never come again,” he told jurors.
Heilingoetter once more showed jurors the videotape at the heart of the case, which features oral sex, masturbation and other explicit acts.
Kelly is charged with 14 counts of videotaping, producing or soliciting child pornography. If convicted of all charges, the 41-year-old Grammy Award winner, whose given name is Robert Kelly, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
In three weeks of testimony, jurors were told the girl, now 23, has denied it was her on the tape, though she did not testify for either side.
Kelly has denied being the man on the tape, and his attorneys said the widely sold tape may have been doctored by the girl’s relatives to extort money from him.
The absence of the girl, Roshona Landfair, has been seen as a potential weakness for the prosecution and the defense, but both claimed the high ground for not having her testify.
Defense lawyer Sam Adam said his team refused to “mess that girl’s life up anymore,” while prosecutor Shauna Boliker said there was no “need to drag that poor child into court.”
“This is not a whodunit, this is a he-dunit,” Boliker said, pointing at Kelly.
Several of the girl’s friends and extended family members testified that she and Kelly are the couple having sex on the 26-minute videotape. Prosecutors contend the tape was made between January 1998 and November 2000 at Kelly’s former Chicago home when the girl was 13 or 14.
But others who knew the girl testified for the defense that it was not her, saying her breasts were not as mature as those of the girl’s on the videotape.
Showing a photograph of the girl in a modest pose, Adam said, “If you convict R. Kelly, you’re calling her a whore.”
Adam argued that the man in the video merely resembled Kelly. He used a broad range of cultural, religious and even patriotic references to make his case.
“Is this what the American system has come to?” he asked.
Adam said the case was all about money and an attempt to extort money from the music star.
Both sides put experts on the stand to say, frame by frame, whether there is an identifying mole visible along the subject’s spine matching a mark seen in police photos taken of a shirtless Kelly after his arrest in 2002.
“If truth be told there is no mole,” Adam told the jury. “That means it ain’t him, and if it ain’t him, you can’t convict.”
Despite the charges lodged against him six years ago, Kelly has earned millions of dollars from concert tours and album sales while free on bond. After early 1990s hits such as “Sex Me” and “Bump n’ Grind,” Kelly won three Grammy Awards for his 1996 single “I Believe I Can Fly,” and has scored 20 other Grammy nominations.
Writing by Nick Carey and Andrew Stern; Editing by Xavier Briand