R. Kelly told a judge on Wednesday that he won’t take the witness stand at his sex trafficking trial, meaning he’ll avoid the risk of a potentially brutal cross-examination.
“You don’t want to testify, correct?” U.S. District Judge Ann Connelly asked the R&B singer. He responded: “Yes, ma’am.”
Lawyers had already said Kelly was unlikely to testify in his own behalf. The defense is now expected to rest its case later Wednesday, clearing the way for the start of closing arguments.
The short defense case has relied on a handful of former Kelly employees and other associates who agreed to take the stand to try to discredit allegations that he sexually abused women, girls and boys during a 30-year musical career highlighted by the 1996 smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Most of the defense witnesses said they never saw Kelly abuse anyone. One went as far to say Kelly was “chivalrous” to his girlfriends. Another admitted he owed Kelly for his break in music business and wanted to see him beat the case.
By contrast, prosecutors have called dozens witnesses since the trial began in federal court in Brooklyn on Aug. 18. They included several female and two male accusers to back up allegations that Kelly used a cadre of managers, bodyguards and assistants to systematically recruit potential victims at his shows, malls and fast-food restaurants where he hung out.
The accusers testified that once they were in Kelly’s web, he groomed them for unwanted sex and psychological torment — mostly when they were teenagers — in episodes dating to the 1990s. Their accounts were supported at least in part by other former Kelly employees whose own testimony suggested they were essentially paid off to look the other way or enable the recording artist.
The 54-year-old defendant, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges. He’s also charged with that multiple violations of the Mann Act, which makes it illegal to transport anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
Kelly has vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that the accusers were groupies who wanted to take advantage of his fame and fortune until the #MeToo movement turned them against him.
Members of the media and the public haven’t actually seen the jailed Kelly in person. U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly has barred people not directly involved in the case from the courtroom in what she called a coronavirus precaution.