As the sex-trafficking trial of disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly nears its end, the defense team presented closing arguments in Brooklyn federal court on Thursday.
Per Buzzfeed News, Attorney Deveraux Cannick began with an unusual metaphor, trying and ultimately failing to draw a through line between civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and the actions of his client. Of the entertainer’s affinity towards having sexual relations with “younger women” (and let’s be clear here, quite a handful of these “women” were merely teens when Kelly approached them), Cannick simply likened it to the lifestyle of a “playboy” and “sex symbol” akin to that of Hugh Hefner.
“Older man, somewhat younger women ... some people just like it that way,” he said. “Hugh Hefner, that was his life. Not a crime.”
In reference to several previous prosecutorial witness testimonies that alleged Kelly made his “girlfriends” call him “daddy” or face harsh punishment, Cannick once again made an odd comparison, opting this time to invoke former Vice President Mike Pence. He further criticized those allegations by asserting that it was “almost a crime to call a man ‘daddy,’” adding that was a “normal thing to call someone in certain cultures, [like] ‘papi.’”
“The former Vice President Mike Pence calls his wife ‘mother,’” he explained.
More on Cannick’s closing arguments per Buzzfeed News:
What was clear was Cannick’s strategy for having his client acquitted: asserting that the more than 40 witnesses called by prosecutors — who had described, at times in graphic detail, the alleged abuse — were lying. He characterized minor discrepancies or uncertainties as smoking guns, obfuscated details from testimony, and slammed numerous alleged victims as liars out for financial gain, even calling one — who had testified that she was 16 when she first had sexual contact with Kelly — a “stalker” and “groupie extraordinaire.”
“Some of the witnesses, just lie after lie after lie ... and the government let them lie,” Cannick said.
In addition to categorizing nearly all of Kelly’s accusers as liars, Cannick also focused mostly on minor discrepancies from various witness testimony, while largely ignoring countless evidence brought forth by the prosecution throughout the trial which included “DNA, travel records, text messages, handwritten letters, photos, Facebook screenshots, audio and video recordings, the sworn testimony of dozens of witnesses, and more.” He also employed gaslighting techniques for a few accusers, namely Sonja and Jerhonda Pace, attempting to cast doubt on what they told jurors Kelly did to them.
Per Buzzfeed News:
Throughout the trial and again on Thursday, Cannick stressed Kelly’s supposed generosity as proof of his innocence — the fact that he took his girlfriends shopping, paid for their Ubers, and threw them birthday parties. It was the loss of this glamorous “lifestyle,” Cannick suggested, that led to the alleged victims attempting to “monetize” their stories through lawsuits and appearing in the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.
“A lot of people were watching Surviving R. Kelly,” Cannick said, “and now a lot of people are surviving off R. Kelly.”
In response to this, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Shihata implored members of the jury to focus on the facts of the case, as presented by the prosecution, and to not be swayed by Cannick’s tactics.
“You can convict the defendant based on the witness testimony alone,” Shihata said, “But there is so much more than that.”
She later added, “It’s like we took a time machine and went back to a courthouse in the 1950s. What they’re arguing is that all of these women and girls were asking for it, and they deserved what they got—never mind that many of them were teenagers, too young to consent.”
Though a verdict date is still uncertain, as Buzzfeed News also notes, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly will “instruct the jury in how they are to deliberate on the nine counts Mr. Kelly is charged with—one racketeering count and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking statute.”
In addition to the crimes he faces in New York, Kelly is also facing additional charges across Illinois and Minnesota, including charges of sex crimes, human trafficking, child pornography, obstruction of justice, kidnapping and forced labor. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.