August 4, 2022

EXPLAINER: How will R. Kelly’s sentence affect other trials?

CHICAGO (AP) — R. Kelly could be over 80 before the singer is free again, based on a 30-year prison sentence imposed this week by a federal judge in New York for taking advantage of his fame for sexually abusing young fans, some of whom were children.

And if the 55-year-old loses in three related lawsuits in the coming months, he could be looking at decades more behind bars. That prospect, said one of his lawyers not involved in the New York lawsuit, could lead Kelly to pursue a plea deal.

Here’s a look at the potential impact of Kelly’s lengthy prison sentence in New York on these other cases:

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE CASES?

A federal trial in Chicago is scheduled to begin next, on August 15. Chicago is Kelly’s hometown and where many of his accusers live, so interest is expected to be particularly intense. Kelly faces charges that he and two co-defendants rigged his state child pornography trial in 2008, when he was acquitted.

The other two cases are state cases: a multiple account sexual abuse case in Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, and a solicitation case in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Both have been on the back burner while federal business unfolds. No trial date is set for either.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF KELLY PURSUE A PLEA AGREEMENT?

The odds are greater after sentencing in New York, said Steve Greenberg, a longtime Kelly attorney who represents Kelly in the Cook County case.

“I suspect there were discussions” between attorneys and prosecutors on Kelly’s federal team, Greenberg said.

A message seeking comment from Kelly’s lead attorney in his federal cases, Jennifer Bonjean, was not immediately returned. She said earlier that Kelly would appeal her convictions in New York.

Kelly must weigh the likelihood of winning Chicago’s federal lawsuit against agreeing to a deal that includes more jail time, Greenberg said.

But Greenberg thinks the cases against Kelly in Cook County and Minnesota are much weaker and that Kelly could win acquittals in those state courts.

WILL ANOTHER SENTENCE BE ADDED TO NEW YORK’S SENTENCE?

If Kelly is convicted in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, his judge could order Kelly to serve that sentence after his New York sentence ends, said Phil Turner, a former Chicago federal prosecutor with no connection to Kelly’s cases.

Turner said he expected prosecutors to seek such a consecutive sentence, but that a judge would most likely impose a concurrent sentence, meaning they would be served concurrently.

WILL PROSECUTORS BE OPEN TO A PLEA AGREEMENT?

They could be, if Kelly agrees to take responsibility for the alleged crimes.

Kelly’s lawyers would probably not agree to anything that involves the possibility of extending the 30-year sentence and would only sign an agreement providing for sentences less than 30 years. They would also want assurances that prosecutors will not push for consecutive sentences.

Turner said Kelly’s benefit of a deal ending the prospect of new trials is that his lawyers could devote their full attention to the New York appeal.

Greenberg said there was reason to believe Kelly could prevail with that call. Turner said it was a long shot. But if that sentence is thrown out, Turner said Kelly would seek to complete what his attorneys hope will be lighter sentences in the other districts.

COULD PROSECUTORS DECIDE TO JUST DROP THE OTHER CASES?

The chances of that seem slim.

Turner said the typical mindset in US prosecutors’ offices is to remain persistent and aggressive. This attitude was particularly pronounced when it came to Kelly.

“They really want this guy,” Turner said.

US prosecutors’ offices also have unlimited resources, so the cost and time involved in a trial will not deter them, he added.

Turner thought it was more likely that the state’s cases would be dropped, especially if Kelly is convicted in Chicago federal court and gets an additional prison sentence.

“Their resources are much more limited. They would be spending money they don’t have,” he said. “They have murders and serious crimes to prosecute. They may ask, “Why spend (money and time) on Kelly when he already faces decades behind bars.”

WHAT ELSE COULD DRIVE DECISIONS TO ADVANCE FURTHER TRIALS?

The possibility that the New York convictions could be overturned is a factor. Kelly could be freed immediately if state and federal prosecutors in Chicago choose to drop their cases and the convictions in New York are overturned.

Prosecutors in the various districts may all see the convictions and sentences won as assurance that Kelly would remain behind bars — even if an appeals court ends up throwing out some convictions.

IS THERE ANY REASON FOR KELLY TO PLEAD WITH NO DEAL?

Pleading guilty to the remaining charges would mean there would be no more trial. This would reduce Kelly’s legal fees, which he sometimes struggles to pay.

But Kelly would have no assurance that prosecutors would not seek the harshest possible sentences.

Still, he could hope that by pleading guilty and accepting responsibility, judges would be more inclined to give him sentences below the guidelines.