CHICAGO – R. Kelly screamed through tears in a recent television interview before an audience numbered millions, saying he is fighting for his life to deny allegations of sexual abuse. This fight will finally be conducted in court, with a public that has only 12 jurors.
While day lawyers hand in the opening statements to jurors within a Cook County courtroom there are still many months or even years away, the depositions and comments of his principal lawyer after the star of the R & B was charged in February providing clues to an emerging legal strategy.
Based on the comments of Kelly and his lawyer, they intend to question the veracity of his accusers and argue that, if he had sex with them, he was consensual and thought he was of age. His lawyer also pointed out that he could push to have some heads of dismissal for reasons of law limitation or because some are too tied to the crimes for which Kelly was acquitted in his 2008 child pornography trial.
Kelly, 52, was right in more than one way when he cursed during the interview with Gayle King about "CBS This Morning", saying, "I'm fighting for my … life." If sentenced on all ten cases of aggravated sexual abuse of three underage girls and an adult, the Grammy winner risks an effective life sentence of up to 70 years in prison.
Prosecutors' evidence verification process has not started and, after passing all, the defense should perfect their argument that Kelly's accusers are misrepresenting the facts. For now, there is not much finesse.
"Everyone is lying," Kelly told King in his only full interview since he was accused. "I was murdered," he said. Kelly's chief lawyer, Steve Greenberg, also told reporters on the day of Kelly's arrest, "I think all women lie, yes."
Greenberg is best known for representing the defendants in several high-profile murder cases, including former Chicago suburban police officer Drew Peterson. He was convicted in 2012 of killing his third wife in a reopened case after his fourth wife disappeared.
Greenberg is considered a skilled lawyer prone to jokes that sometimes raises his eyebrows. In arguing that any sex was consensual, Greenberg told reporters last month about Kelly: "She's a rock star, she doesn't need to have sexual intercourse."
Greenberg and the lawyer Michael Avenatti regularly met on Twitter, both questioning the abilities of the lawyer for the other. Avenatti, who represented porn star Stormy Daniels in a civil lawsuit against President Donald Trump, provided video evidence to prosecutors claiming that they helped them load Kelly.
Prosecutors say they will not have to depend on the word of the accusers.
The video that Avenatti delivered shows that Kelly has sex with a minor girl 20 years ago while Kelly and the girl say out loud more than 10 times that they are 14, which could prove he knew he was in old age.
And another accuser, a hairdresser, says that Kelly forced her to have oral sex on him in 2003, when she was 24 years old. Prosecutors say a police lab found Kelly's DNA in sperm on a shirt she was wearing that day.
In a defense statement Wednesday, Greenberg questioned Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx's motives, accusing her of bringing a weak criminal case based on old "throw in the spotlight" charges of the #MeToo movement, which aims to highlight sexual abuse against women.
A Foxx spokeswoman declined the comment.
Greenberg also criticized Foxx for public statements in January that defined the charges against Kelly in a "sickening" life documentary. He said that characterizing the accusations before the allegations were even brought to illustrated prejudices and that they could have tainted the pool of potential jurors, making a fair trial impossible. He could revive those arguments in dismissal motions or on appeal if Kelly was convicted.
The argument that Kelly would never have sex with a minor will rely on Kelly's credibility.
The girl in the video is the same girl in a similar video in the heart of the 2008 trial, Avenatti said. Greenberg said this means that the allegations connected with her are a violation of constitutional prohibitions against someone's attempt at the same crime for which they were acquitted.
"The double risk," Greenberg said last month, "should block this case." Kelly seemed to make a similar point when he told King: "When you defeat your case, defeat your case."
But legal experts say it's not that simple.
The double risk does not apply unless the same incident occurs, explained Monu Bedi, a professor at DePaul University College of Law. He said it does not apply even if it is the same incident but a different accusation. All 14 heads that Kelly faced in 2008 were child pornography, while all ten this time are sexual abuse, so the double risk doesn't come into play, Bedi said.
Greenberg said the legal window on bringing at least some of the charges brought against Kelly was closed years ago, although he didn't explain in detail how. Calculating when the statute limits are exhausted can be complex, based on variables that can be opened for interpretation.
The Illinois legislators in 2017 have canceled all time limits for accusations of sexual violence against children and it applies unequivocally to such crimes that occurred at any time since 2017. It cannot apply retroactively to more crimes ancients.
But that doesn't mean that no sexual abuse by Kelly in the late 1990s can be charged, Bedi said. This is because older sexual assaults are governed by the statute of limits as it existed before 2017, when prosecutors were 20 years old to blame child abuse. So, if Kelly sexually abused a minor at the end of the 1990s, prosecutors should still be within the 20-year charging window.