CHICAGO — After just two days of testimony from 12 witnesses, the defense rested in R. Kelly’s child-pornography trial, with only rebuttal and closing arguments to go.
THE R. KELLY TRIAL: IN BRIEF
Status of Trial
What’s at Stake?
For full coverage of the ongoing R. Kelly case, see The R. Kelly Trial Reports.
Anyone expecting the R&B singer or the girl in question to take the stand was sorely disappointed. Compared to the explosive testimony of Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards or “threesome woman” Lisa Van Allen , there was no star witness for the defense — no one whose credibility could make or break the case. Instead, the singer’s defense team focused on poking holes in the prosecution’s case wherever it could — even at the risk of underdeveloping its own case.
Here’s what the defense focused on and how Kelly’s lawyers will piece it together in closing arguments, his last chance to convince the jury to acquit him:
Is R. Kelly the man on the tape?
Kelly’s team has been steadfast in denying that the singer is on the tape. So who was it? They’ve suggested the man is a look-alike who lacks one of Kelly’s distinguishing marks: a large mole on the lower left of his back. The prosecution’s forensic video analyst slowed down a half-second’s worth of footage from the sex tape and showed that the mole was visible, but then the defense’s expert testified that this dark mark on the man’s back was no mole, since it came and went, making it a possible artifact of electronic noise. Expect the prosecution’s expert to take the stand Tuesday to rebut this assessment.
But whoever this look-alike is — and Kelly’s team provided no suggestions as to the man’s identity — he (or his cohorts) must have had access to the singer’s home, this much the defense conceded. Though Kelly’s lawyers alluded to the singer’s rigorous tour schedule, they did not present his frequent out-of-town dates for an alibi. Nor did his lawyers present any evidence or witnesses regarding the room where the tape was shot, to demonstrate who else may have had access.
Instead, the defense talked about conspiracy theories, suggesting that there are many people who would want to set Kelly up. First and foremost on the list would be former mistress Van Allen, who testified that she had a threesome with the singer and the girl in question. Rather than present a string of character witnesses to testify that Kelly is not the type of man to do such a thing, the defense had a string of impeachment witnesses to testify that Van Allen is the type of person who would lie and steal to get what she wants and, in this case, get money in order not to testify. Since Van Allen was granted immunity, it would have been easy for her to admit that she did try to extort money from Kelly with an authentic tape of their sexual encounter. By denying that, she made herself (and her fiance, Yul Brown) an easy target for the defense, which dismantled her motives with three witnesses. (Three more were planned but never took the stand.)
Next on the conspiracy-theory hit list would be former protégé Sparkle, former manager Barry Hankerson, and Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis. But the defense didn’t develop these three as fall guys as much as they did Van Allen. With Sparkle, Kelly lawyer Ed Genson insinuated during cross-examination that she was still bitter over being dropped from Kelly’s record label and that she had some business dealings with Hankerson, but the jury never heard from Hankerson — nor did they hear who Hankerson was or why he might be out to get Kelly. Same for DeRogatis, who took the Fifth when he took the stand, outside the presence of the jury. Any conspiracy theory involving these three will have to be made via argument, not evidence.
Was the girl on the tape underage?
To counter the dozen people — four relatives, three childhood friends (along with three of their parents) and two basketball coaches — who identified the girl on the tape , the defense presented three separate relatives who denied it was their loved one . Plus, the relatives that the defense presented were well-spoken and didn’t contradict themselves — unlike the prosecution’s witnesses, whose memories were a little fuzzy, especially for the uncle arrested for crack cocaine possession. This helped spread confusion: If there’s no consensus in the family, there might be no consensus in the jury room.
Only aunts, uncles and cousins took the stand, but no immediate family. So where was the girl herself? Or her parents? Defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. made a big point in his opening argument that if this terrible thing had indeed happened to this young woman, why wasn’t her mother there demanding justice? With no victim, there must be no crime, he implied. If there had been a crime, wouldn’t the girl have told one of her friends or relatives or coaches, two of whom were cops? Since there was no outcry, since no one — save Sparkle, and only in hindsight — saw anything inappropriate between Kelly and his goddaughter, there’s no proof of molestation, they say. Plus, like Kelly, the girl traveled a lot during the time frame prosecutors say the tape was made: her eighth-grade year.
To counteract all the people who so earnestly believe it is their friend or relative on the tape, the defense suggested that it is her head — but not her body — on the tape, which must have been doctored. That way, the defense doesn’t have to attack crying mothers on the stand; they’re not lying, just mistaken.
Could the tape have been fabricated?
The defense team’s forensic video expert made a version of the tape in which he put a background of the log-cabin room in Kelly’s home on a loop, then placed the man and the girl on the tape in a superimposed layer, and then made their heads disappear while they were having sex. This, he said, only took a few hours of work over a few afternoons and showed how a tape could be faked. Still, he conceded, there would be evidence of fakery.
The defense argues that the tape must be a fake and that the people in it must be paid actors or prostitutes. But two experts — one from the FBI — countered that the tape is authentic. For the jury, it becomes a battle of the experts. Which one do they believe: The prosecution expert, who really seemed to know what he was talking about and showed them how the mole, upon close inspection, was visible, or the defense expert, who wasn’t as credentialed but showed them headless sex worthy of Washington Irving? If the jury buys the “Little Man” defense — which even Shawn Wayans doesn’t give much credence to — then Kelly has a shot.
Kelly’s team has to pull all this into a convincing argument — one that ties together all the loose ends and shows that certain inconsistencies in state witnesses’ testimony were a product of conspiracies, not just faulty memories thanks to the trial’s delay. For Kelly to go free, this jury needs to believe that there’s been an elaborate scheme to “get him” — that he’s the victim here, not the girl who didn’t even bother to show up.