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R. Kelly opts not to testify at his federal trial as defense attorneys begin presenting their case

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Defense calls first witnesses in R. Kelly trial
Defense calls first witnesses in R. Kelly trial 02:32

Three weeks into his federal trial in Chicago, singer R. Kelly spoke for the first time, to tell the judge he would not be testifying in his own defense.

Kelly, 55, is on trial on a 13-count indictment, including child pornography and obstruction of justice charges. His former business manager Derrel McDavid and former assistant Milton "June" Brown are being tried alongside him, accused of scheming with Kelly to buy back incriminating sex tapes to help cover up his sex crimes and rig his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County, at which Kelly was acquitted.  

Kelly also did not testify at his federal trial last year in New York, when he was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking charges, and later sentenced to 30 years in prison. He also did not take the stand at his 2008 child pornography trial in Chicago, when he was acquitted of all charges.

Brown also will not take the stand at their federal trial in Chicago, although McDavid has chosen to testify in his own defense.

Kelly's defense team called their first five witnesses on Thursday, after the judge rejected their motion for acquittal. Such motions are routinely filed in criminal trials, and are very rarely granted.

As they started presenting their case, the defense team tried to poke holes in some of the stories brought by R. Kelly's accusers earlier in this trial.

First on the stand was Christopher Wilson, a former Chicago police detective and family friend of McDavid's, who testified that McDavid told him Kelly was being "blackmailed."

Wilson said he traveled to Kansas City with a private investigator to meet with the alleged blackmailer. He said he did not personally witness anything illegal, and as a cop he would have been required to report it.

Next up was Merry Green, who planned a 1999 expo at McCormick Place. That's where one of Kelly's accusers says she met the R&B singer. That accuser, testifying under the pseudonym "Tracy," has testified that she was only 16 when they met, and soon began having sex, accusing the singer of sexually abusing her dozens of times.

But Green testified under oath that she was never made aware of Kelly's attendance at the expo where Tracy claimed she met him, and she would have been aware of an R&B star of that magnitude. Green testified that he appeared at the expo in the year 2000, when Tracy would have been 17.

The witness who spent the longest amount of time on the stand was audio engineer Tom Arnold, who worked for Kelly for about eight years starting in 2003, and before that worked at Chicago Trax studios, while Kelly was recording music there.

Arnold said it was very normal for him to cash checks at a bank and handle large amounts of cash for Kelly. He said the largest sum was approximately $125,000 dollars in cash.

He also testified he drove people for Kelly and that it was "common knowledge" drivers were not supposed to talk to Kelly's female "guests."

Ronald Winters took the stand after Arnold. He worked as a personal assistant to R. Kelly's criminal defense attorney in his Cook County case in the 2000s.

WInters said he viewed multiple VHS tapes of Kelly having sex with different women, but Winters said none of them appeared to be underage.

Winters thought one of the tapes showed Kelly's then-wife, not an underage girl as prosecutors have argued. 

Jurors were excused until Tuesday at 10am.

The judge said they expect to finish the case next week "without fail."

After the jury was excused for the day on Thursday, the judge, prosecutors, and defense attorneys worked on finalizing jury instructions. Kelly's attorney said the singer was not feeling well, so he will not be participating in that process. 

Read more details on Thursday's testimony below


Jurors sent home for the weekend

The trial appears to be nearing an end, after U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber sent jurors home for the day on Thursday, and gave them the day off on Friday. Jurors will be back on Tuesday, after the long Labor Day weekend.

Leinenweber said he expects the trial to conclude next week. 

By Megan Hickey

Private investigator testifies about sex tapes brought to former Kelly attorney's office

Private investigator Ronald Winters, who was once the personal assistant to defense attorney Ed Genson, who represented Kelly in his child pornography case in the 2000s, testified about a number of times that former Kelly business manager Derrel McDavid brought in sex tapes of Kelly to Genson's office.

Winters said in the spring of 2007, while Kelly was facing child pornography charges in Cook County, McDavid on six or seven occasions brought in tapes of Kelly having sex with different women. He said none of the women appeared to be underage.

In one tape he saw in April 2007, Kelly was having sex with two women, one of whom appeared to be his wife. 

Defense attorneys appeared to be suggesting that Kelly was trying to buy back those tapes because they featured his wife, not because they showed him having sex with girls.

However, during cross-examination, prosecutors seemed to question whether the tapes Winters saw were the same ones shown to the jury during the trial.

Prosecutors asked if the videos showed a room with "wood paneling," apparently referring to a log cabin-themed room that star witness "Jane" has said is where Kelly filmed them having a threesome while she was only 14. Winters said he doesn't know what was in the background of the videos he saw.

"It's a sex tape I'm not paying attention to the scenery," he testified.

By Megan Hickey

Former music studio intern says it was "common knowledge" Kelly's drivers shouldn't talk to his female guests

Tom Arnold, a former intern at Chicago Trax studio, was called to the stand on behalf of former Kelly assistant Milton "June" Brown.

Arnold testified that he began working for Trax studio in 1998, while Kelly was recording there, and then started working directly for Kelly in 2003.

He said he routinely worked with petty cash at the studio, and would sometimes cash checks, as well as collect receipts for Kelly's business manager, Derrel McDavid, recalling a time he picked up $125,000 in cash.

Arnold also testified that his job duties included driving people around at Kelly's request, and that it was "common knowledge" that drivers were not supposed to talk to Kelly's female guests.

It appeared to be an attempt by Brown's attorneys to show that low-level employees were not privy to the details of Kelly's activities, and wouldn't have been aware of or involved in a conspiracy.

By Megan Hickey

Defense witness counters timeline provided by one of Kelly's accusers

Merry Green, who was involved in the planning of the Today's Black Woman expo at McCormick Place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, testified Kelly did not appear as a featured artist at the 1999 expo, but did make a promotional appearance at the expo in 2000.

Kelly's defense team appeared to be trying to counter claims from one of Kelly's accusers, "Tracy," that she met him at an expo in 1999, when she was 16, and that the two later began a sexual relationship while she was still underage, accusing Kelly of abusing her dozens of times.

In 2000, Tracy would have been 17, which is the age of consent in Illinois.

During cross-examination by prosecutors, Green said she didn't know if Kelly might have attended the 1999 expo, even if he wasn't a featured artist, but Green said organizers were not notified by security that he was there.

By Megan Hickey

Former CPD detective says Kelly associate told him singer was being blackmailed

Former Chicago police detective Christopher Wilson, who testified he is a longtime friend of former Kelly business manager Derrel McDavid, testified that in 2001, McDavid "informed me that Mr. Kelly was being blackmailed."

Wilson said McDavid wanted him to go with private investigator Jack Palladino to interview a suspect in the blackmail.

Wilson didn't name the "suspect," but given the timing of the trip and previous testimony in the case, it was clear he was talking about Charles Freeman, who previously testified that Kelly and his team agreed to pay him to recover incriminating videotapes of Kelly sexually abusing girls.

Wilson said he wasn't present when Palladino questioned the suspect, who was also given a lie detector test. He testified no one suggested during the trip that there was any connection to child pornography.

During cross-examination, prosecutors asked Wilson if he had seen a crime such as blackmail. Wilson said, had he witnessed any such crime, he would have had a duty to report it as an off-duty officer.

By Megan Hickey
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