The recent docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, has many folks wondering if R. Kelly will be joining Bill Cosby in prison one day. Multiple state attorneys are looking into investigating possible charges against Kelly. Although a prior 2008 case involving 14 child pornography charges against Kelly was unsuccessful, this time may be different. It’s still too soon to tell if Kelly’s time is up. The docuseries helped to re-ignite the fire but the flame is still low for a prosecution or conviction of R. Kelly.
The issues facing any prosecutor who investigates and brings charges against Kelly will be credibility of witnesses and victims, statute of limitations, solicitation of victims by the prosecutors, length of time to bring charges (assuming the statute has not tolled) and the popularity of R. Kelly.
Unlike most of Bill Cosby’s victims, R. Kelly’s victims are African American and other women of color. A sexual assault case is always difficult to obtain a conviction. A sexual assault or rape case involving a woman of color presents an even further uphill battle due to implicit race bias.
In spite of the docuseries, the popularity of R. Kelly still soared. The streaming of his music soared during the docuseries. Even without the docuseries, Kelly’s “I believe I can fly” is played almost every Sunday on many gospel radio stations and in churches across the country. His “Step in the Name of Love” is played at many wedding receptions. And when the music starts, almost everyone is on their feet dancing to it.
Many of the women who are alleged to have been emotionally manipulated and sexually controlled by Kelly in a cult are over 18 years of age. Consent is a real issue for most sexual assault cases. Unlike Cosby, many of the victims allegedly held captive in Kelly’s orbit are not drugged. They are allegedly held against their will but not by drugs, alcohol or any other substance. They are held against their will allegedly by mind manipulation and psychological tactics by Kelly. Some refuse to come home despite pleas by their families.
In addition, Cook County prosecutor Kim Fox is soliciting potential victims to contact her office. If any of those potential cases lead to an indictment, there will be issues raised of coercion by the prosecution office. I applaud prosecutors who are looking into evidence against Kelly. The docuseries made me physically sick to watch it. The alleged acts were so gross that my heart bled for the victims.
R. Kelly is no Bill Cosby. He’s a much worse predator than Cosby, if the women’s accounts are believed.
Washington, D.C. Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.