Pros­e­cu­tors flooded with calls about R. Kelly

Build­ing suc­cess­ful case will be dif­fi­cult, ex­perts say

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAND - By Me­gan Cre­peau [email protected]­ Twit­ter @mor­greene mcre­[email protected]­ Twit­ter @cre­peau

Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx’s of­fice has been flooded with calls since she per­son­ally pleaded for any vic­tims or wit­nesses to come for­ward with in­for­ma­tion about al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct by R&B su­per­star R. Kelly.

What fol­lows could be a long road for both ac­cusers and pros­e­cu­tors given the del­i­cate na­ture of in­ves­ti­gat­ing sex crimes, Kelly’s high pro­file and the fact that many of the vic­tims may be go­ing pub­lic af­ter a long si­lence. The stakes can be even higher with a celebrity in­volved.

“You have a dou­bleedged sword,” said Steven Block, for­mer head of the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tions bu­reau of the Cook County state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice. “You’ve got the dif­fi­culty of cor­rob­o­rat­ing older al­le­ga­tions be­cause cer­tain ev­i­dence no longer ex­ists, and you also have … at­tacks on wit­ness cred­i­bil­ity be­cause of the tim­ing of their out­cry. … That’s not to say it’s an un­prov­able case, (but) it’s an ad­di­tional hur­dle the pros­e­cu­tor is go­ing to have to deal with right out of the gate.”

Foxx’s per­sonal call to ac­tion — even briefly re­fer­ring to her own back­ground as a sex­ual as­sault “sur­vivor” — came amid cas­cad­ing fall­out from a Life­time doc­u­men­tary se­ries, “Sur­viv­ing R. Kelly,” that aired this month with ac­cu­sa­tions paint­ing Kelly as a ma­nip­u­la­tive sex­ual preda­tor.

The se­ries fea­tures sto­ries from women al­leg­ing Kelly phys­i­cally, sex­u­ally and men­tally abused them. The singer has long been ac­cused of hav­ing sex­ual con­tact with un­der­age girls. Cook County pros­e­cu­tors in­dicted Kelly on child pornog­ra­phy charges for al­legedly film­ing him­self hav­ing sex with a girl es­ti­mated to be as young as 13, but a jury ac­quit­ted him of all charges in 2008. More re­cently, he has been ac­cused of run­ning a hid­den “sex cult” of women who are ma­nip­u­lated and abused to stay un­der his con­trol.

Foxx was “sick­ened” by the al­le­ga­tions aired in the se­ries, she said at a highly un­usual news con­fer­ence at which she pleaded for vic­tims to tell their sto­ries to po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors. With­out the co­op­er­a­tion of ac­cusers, law en­force­ment can­not build a crim­i­nal case, she said.

Since the an­nounce­ment Tues­day, the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice has been in­un­dated with “dozens and dozens” of calls, spokes­woman Kiera El­lis told the Tri­bune. The of­fice is cur­rently work­ing “to vet the al­le­ga­tions and make a de­ter­mi­na­tion if charges are ap­pro­pri­ate based on the ev­i­dence,” she said.

But Kelly’s lo­cal at­tor­ney, Steve Green­berg, blasted Foxx’s call for vic­tims to come for­ward as ir­re­spon­si­ble.

“It’s com­pletely back­wards,” he told the

R. Kelly pro­test­ers made their way to the em­bat­tled singer’s Near West Side record­ing studio Sat­ur­day morn­ing to am­plify the #MuteRKelly move­ment. And then a few Kelly sup­port­ers pulled up am­pli­fy­ing his mu­sic.

Fol­low­ing the damn­ing Life­time doc­u­men­tary se­ries “Sur­viv­ing R. Kelly,” pro­test­ers gath­ered for the sec­ond time this week out­side 219 N. Jus­tine St. to share sto­ries of sur­vival, call for an end to the “Pied Piper of R&B’s” ca­reer and bring at­ten­tion to the young women at the cen­ter of his al­leged “cult.”

As flur­ries of snow hit the side­walks out­side of the studio, a small group of pro­test­ers passed around a mega­phone. One col­or­ful sign raised in the air said: “‘Age ain’t noth­ing but a num­ber.’ Well jail ain’t noth­ing but a room.”

“I couldn’t stand by and be silent,” said cri­sis re­spon­der Dawn Valenti through the mega­phone. “It’s im­por­tant for us as sur­vivors to stand up.”

Chants of “R. Kelly, your time is up!” and “Black girls mat­ter!” were di­rected at the brick build­ing.

Pro­tester Tebitha Ku­likowska, 26, of Bel­mont Cra­gin, said she came to the protest to help give voice to those who don’t have an out­let.

“I want there to be a fu­ture that girls can look for­ward to,” Ku­likowska said. “The doc­u­men­tary re­ally opened up my eyes.”

The six-hour doc­u­men­tary — watched by al­most 20 mil­lion view­ers — cov­ers decades of abuse al­le­ga­tions against the Grammy win­ner, in­clud­ing the six-year le­gal Tri­bune. “Now you’re invit­ing peo­ple who have never com­plained to reach out, and that’s re­ally no dif­fer­ent than when they used to troll for jail­house snitches . ... That’s how you end up with wrong­ful con­vic­tions and bad ev­i­dence.”

Green­berg strongly de­nies any wrong­do­ing by Kelly and said he is con­fi­dent the singer won’t face charges.

The state’s at­tor­ney’s call to ac­tion fol­lowed re­ports saga that cul­mi­nated with Kelly be­ing ac­quit­ted of child pornog­ra­phy charges by a Cook County jury in 2008.

Kelly, who cel­e­brated his 52nd birth­day Tues­day, has long de­nied all al­le­ga­tions of sex abuse and run­ning a “cult.” But a wave of back­lash has fol­lowed the re­lease of the doc­u­men­tary. Kelly is re­port­edly un­der crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Ge­or­gia, and Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx ear­lier this week asked al­leged vic­tims to come for­ward.

On Wed­nes­day, a protest was held out­side the studio, and on Thurs­day, a pro­posal for a Spring­field con­cert hosted by Kelly was de­nied due to se­cu­rity con­cerns, while a lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion banned his mu­sic. On Fri­day, Kelly was or­dered to al­low city build­ing in­spec­tors to check out his Near West Side record­ing studio af­ter re­ports that peo­ple were liv­ing in the in­dus­trial ware­house space in vi­o­la­tion of city codes.

On Sat­ur­day, as pro­test­ers chalked mes­sages on the slick side­walks, Tyler Thomp­son, 22, of Hyde Park, talked about what brought her to the studio.

Thomp­son said that grow­ing up, she knew peo­ple who knew Kelly, and she was in­vited to his res­i­dence. But she never asked her mom if she could go, be­cause Thomp­son knew her mom would say no.

“If I didn’t have a mom who put that fear in me,” Thomp­son said, “I could have been one of those women.”

Thomp­son said she still has friends who de­fend the singer, but she sees the cur­rent mo­ment as a turn­ing point. that Kelly is un­der crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Ge­or­gia. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Ful­ton County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice said the of­fice has no com­ment. But a spokesman for Ger­ald Griggs, a lawyer rep­re­sent­ing par­ents of a girl who say Kelly has kept her from con­tact­ing them since 2016, con­firmed the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice reached out to them seek­ing in­for­ma­tion about wit­nesses.

The state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice

“A lot of this wouldn’t hap­pen if the doc­u­men­tary wasn’t made,” she said. “I will def­i­nitely keep com­ing out if there’s more protests.

“I just hope ev­ery­one keeps their en­ergy and fo­cus on the women,” she said.

Thomp­son pointed out her chalked mes­sage that sent love to Azriel and Joyce­lyn, two of the girls at the cen­ter of the Life­time doc­u­men­tary, as two white cars ar­rived in front of the studio, blast­ing Kelly’s mu­sic.

Signs popped out of the win­dows with mes­sages of “for­give­ness” for Kelly and Bi­ble verses. “R. Kelly We (heart) U,” read one sign.

The sup­port­ers and pro­test­ers yelled back and forth in a con­tentious shout­ing match. One sup­porter ex­ited a car with his own mega­phone and ad­dressed or­ga­nizer An­thony Clark as the crowd at­tempted to drown out the sup­porter with cries of “Mute R. Kelly.”

By about 11:30 a.m., the white cars were gone.

“I prayed with them,” Clark said. “I cir­cled up and prayed with them be­cause I don’t hate any­one.

“We must be al­lies in verb form, and the first step is to first hold our­selves ac­count­able as in­di­vid­u­als,” Clark said. “We had so many won­der­ful speak­ers step up, be­cause again it’s not enough just to act, we have to also ed­u­cate.”

Clark said there’s a Mon­day protest at Trump Tower in the works. Po­lice went to Kelly’s res­i­dence at the build­ing on Fri­day on a tip that women were be­ing held hostage but left af­ter find­ing no ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing. has de­clined to com­ment on the spe­cific na­ture of many of the calls it has re­ceived but did ac­knowl­edge that fam­i­lies of two miss­ing women have reached out with con­cerns about their loved ones’ pos­si­ble con­tact with Kelly.

But even if au­thor­i­ties hear from peo­ple with cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions, pros­e­cu­tors still must weigh sev­eral tricky fac­tors in de­cid­ing whether they can build a suc­cess­ful case, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts who spoke gen­er­ally about sex-crimes pros­e­cu­tions rather than any spe­cific in­ves­ti­ga­tion of al­le­ga­tions against Kelly.

Some mak­ing ac­cu­sa­tions against the singer have likely come for­ward long af­ter the al­leged abuse took place. Sup­port­ing ev­i­dence can be tough to find as a re­sult, said at­tor­ney Sabra Eber­sole, who spent four years as a pros­e­cu­tor in the Cook County state’s at­tor­ney’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex crimes units.

“Gen­er­ally there’s not go­ing to be any­thing that ju­ries are look­ing for in terms of phys­i­cal cor­rob­o­ra­tion,” said Eber­sole, now a pri­vate at­tor­ney who rep­re­sents both vic­tims and de­fen­dants in sex-crimes cases. “The role of the pros­e­cu­tor then, if they think they have a cred­i­ble case, is to ex­plain to the jury why a per­son is be­liev­able de­spite the fact that years have passed from the time of the abuse to the time of the out­cry, and though it’s chal­leng­ing, it can be done.”

De­fense at­tor­neys use that time gap to at­tack the cred­i­bil­ity of the ac­cuser. Kelly’s su­per­star sta­tus also gives the de­fense more am­mu­ni­tion to at­tack an ac­cuser’s mo­ti­va­tions, Block said.

Vic­tims of sex­ual abuse al­ready face an up­hill climb in try­ing to get peo­ple to be­lieve them, said Car­rie Ward, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Illi­nois Coali­tion Against Sex­ual As­sault. When a celebrity has been ac­cused, it can be even more dif­fi­cult.

“The higher the pro­file — and this is ex­tremely high­pro­file — the harder it may be for some­one to come for­ward,” Ward said. “It raises the num­ber of peo­ple who might doubt your story. You could have a sit­u­a­tion where some­one starts out a fan or a groupie who is just re­ally taken by a star or celebrity and would do any­thing, feel like they would do any­thing for them. That still doesn’t mean they de­serve to be taken ad­van­tage of.”

The al­le­ga­tions that Kelly is run­ning a “sex cult” of women kept cap­tive un­der his con­trol could be par­tic­u­larly tricky to cor­rob­o­rate. Po­lice on Fri­day went to Kelly’s Trump Tower res­i­dence to check out a tip that two women were be­ing held hostage there but left af­ter both women said they were not there against their will.

Green­berg cited that as de­fin­i­tive proof that Kelly has not par­tic­i­pated in wrong­do­ing.

But Ward cau­tioned that law en­force­ment should still take such claims se­ri­ously.

“Peo­ple who are held cap­tive against their will might do and say things that don’t seem nor­mal, that don’t seem like what some­one would do if they’re be­ing held against their will,” Ward said. “Es­pe­cially where you have re­peat sit­u­a­tions where folks have come for­ward. … I cer­tainly do hope there’s con­tin­ued ef­fort to check up on that.”

If many women come for­ward with sim­i­lar cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions against Kelly, that could prove pow­er­ful for pros­e­cu­tors. In some cases, pros­e­cu­tors can try to in­tro­duce ev­i­dence at trial of a de­fen­dant’s other al­leged crimes to prove a pat­tern of be­hav­ior — much like what hap­pened to en­ter­tainer Bill Cosby.

“If the pros­e­cu­tion can present mul­ti­ple vic­tims, then it’s no longer a ‘he said, she said,’ ” Eber­sole said. “It’s a ‘he said, she said, she said, she said.’ ”


Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx’s call to ac­tion came amid cas­cad­ing fall­out from a Life­time doc­u­men­tary se­ries.

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