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I walked into the hallway outside courtroom 4G North in the Brooklyn Federal Court Building on Friday morning not knowing exactly what to expect. R. Kelly is facing three cases simultaneously: one in Cook County, Illinois; a federal case in Illinois; and today's case in New York's Eastern District. (If you need a reminder about what the two federal cases are about, check here.)
The New York case centers on the idea that Kelly was the head of a criminal enterprise, one whose goal was "to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly." The purpose of Friday was for the singer to be arraigned on the Eastern District charges, and to see whether he'd be granted bail.
Whether he got it or not was a bit of a technicality. He had already been denied bond in the Illinois federal case, so he would remain behind bars either way. But regardless, a mix of supporters, opponents, and media filled the courtroom to capacity and into an overflow room. Also in attendance were Kelly's girlfriends Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage. They refused to talk to the media but appeared upbeat, laughing and joking with each other as the second of the day's two hearings ended.
Kelly's hardcore supporters arrived early. One woman named Grace Charles in a shirt that read "Free R. Kelly" on one side and "Unmute R. Kelly" on the other had arrived at 7 a.m., three and a half hours before the hearing started. Another blue-haired supporter dressed in a shirt that proclaimed her allegiance through multiple hashtags: #KingKellz #SurvivingLies #VindicateRKelly #TeamKellz #Him2. She formed a prayer circle with half a dozen friends, asking to "Give him strength."
"The only thing I gotta say, free R. Kelly," said one yellow-shirted woman who gave her name as Glenda. "He loves his fans. He's very talented. Everybody loves him."
Ruthie Castro showed up with homemade "Free R. Kelly" crowns that she shared with her friends. She was skeptical about the parents of the girls Kelly was accused of abusing. She had a daughter who had been raped, she said, and "I put that guy in jail."
"Where were the parents?" she continued. "Why weren't they out looking for their child? These people [were] gone for months on end. None of them have taken their kids to the hospital or given them therapy."
As for the reason Kelly was facing legal consequences now, the friends were in agreement. "Money."
Finally we filed into the courtroom and Judge Steven L. Tiscione arrived. Kelly, wearing a blue jumpsuit with an orange shirt underneath, was monosyllabic, saying only "Yes" and "Yes, sir" throughout. His lawyers made it clear he was pleading not guilty, and then the government argued that Kelly should be denied bail.
He had a history, they said, of paying off and intimidating witnesses. He'd used his inner circle to do so, and also other means. He "created numerous recordings of minors and kept them at his disposal" in order to keep girls from testifying, they continued. And some of the crimes he was accused of this time allegedly happened while he was out on bail for his 2002 case, so it's not like good behavior was guaranteed.
Kelly's co-counsel Douglas Anton's counter-argument was that all of the things the government was accusing Kelly of haven't been proven, so they shouldn't be held against him. Also, Kelly could be relied on to show up at future hearings. "I've never known him not to appear in court," the lawyer said.
Then Kelly's side submitted some paperwork: an appeal of the bond decision in Illinois. The judge read it on the spot, causing the entire room to fall into five minutes of uncomfortable silence, while Kelly occasionally glanced over at the gallery.
Once that was all done, the judge made his position clear: Kelly was a flight risk and a danger, and there was no way bail was going to happen.
"The defendant is accused of a multitude of crimes," Tiscione said. "[He] has a history of similar allegations. He has access to financial resources...He has signficant incentive to flee."
"I'm extremely troubled by issues of potential obstruction," the judge continued. Finally, he said, Kelly "cannot be trusted." Kelly was ordered detained pending trial.
"This is my first R. Kelly concert. Glad to be here."
That was Brooke Pizarro, joking around. She had come to court with her daughter, and I ran into her inbetween hearings. She had yelled at Azriel and Joycelyn, telling them to go home to their loving parents. Considering all the R. Kelly supporters I'd run into over the course of the day, hearing that was a surprise. Brooke was happy about the bail decision.
She told me that she'd been talking to Joycelyn and Azriel's parents online, and felt for them. As for what she yelled at the young women, "I told Joycelyn that I felt she was ready to come home, and to please come home," Brooke explained. "I stressed to Joycelyn that I know that she's ready. I think that they need to be home with their parents. I think that Joycelyn is just about there."
The afternoon hearing in front of Judge Ann M. Donnelly was just to set a date for the next step of the Eastern District case, which will happen on October 2, without Kelly in attendance.
After the day's final hearing, Gloria Allred, who is representing three of the five Jane Does in the case, spoke to the assembled media.
"I have no doubt that victims of Mr. Kelly are relieved that Mr. Kelly will continue to be kept in custody, pending the outcome of his trial," she said. And she responded to Anton's legal strategy: "Mr. Anton refers to some of the alleged victims as 'groupies.' This is both inaccurate and hurtful to many of the victims. They are not groupies. They are instead brave victims, who are seeking justice.
"In many cases, it appears that Mr. Kelly took advantage of his position as a wealthy, powerful, famous celebrity to prey on vulnerable minors who admired and trusted him," she continued. "I feel that it is wrong and completely inappropriate to victim-blame and insult them in a court of law. It is time for Mr. Kelly's defense attorneys to stop traumatizing persons who are alleged to be victims of Mr. Kelly, and start showing them the respect which is long overdue to them."
After that, it was Anton and co-counsel Steve Greenberg's turn. "So much for letting the evidence speak for itself," Anton opened, nodding to Allred's nine-minute-long statement. They were going to appeal the bail decision, he explained, along with the one in Chicago. And he weighed in on his client's state of mind when a reported asked if Kelly was "irritated" by the day's events.
"Imagine that you are an innocent person and you're locked up in prison," he said. "I'd imagine 'irritated' might be a good way to describe it. He's not a happy person." In addition, Greenberg said, "it's virtually impossible" to review the evidence against him. "We're dealing with someone who can't read. So much of the case is based on documents. He can't read. So it's going to be a mess."
And then came an endless stream of groupie talk as Anton defended his recent letter to the judge that used the word "groupie" or "groupies" 15 times and included a a hyperlink to a 1985 Late Night With David Letterman interview with David Lee Roth about the "groupie experience."
"When I call these people groupies, it almost fits the definition," he said. "Traveling with the band, going to see the band, wanting to be with the band—that is the definition of a groupie, whether they're disgruntled or they're showing groupie remorse. I think the facts are going to bear out that you have people who voluntarily were engaged in wanting to hang around with a group. Along the way, nobody had anything bad to say about it until such time as there was a beating on the chest and a call to arms—'Hey, remember that groupie experience you really enjoyed and loved? Well, guess what? That may be something that was bad for you. Want to talk about it?' And here we are."
Greenberg leaned into the "groupie remorse" idea. "It's like any disgruntled person, when they leave a relationship, they see the relationship differently."
Allred, though, said that she had been contacted by victims prior to Suriving R. Kelly hitting the airwaves, so the idea that a documentary caused women to reconsider their experiences with Kelly was ridiculous. "Not every person who was alleged to be a victim of Mr. Kelly only spoke out after the Lifetime documentary," she explained. "That's factually inaccurate."
And, she pointed out, "We know that many persons who are victims of child sexual abuse sometimes take years to come forward because they are afraid of being not believed, victim-shamed, victim-blamed. So I just commend all of those who want to seek justice in this case, who are willing to testify under oath."
Next up for Kelly is a hearing in the Illnois federal case on September 4.