Four years after announcing bombshell new charges against R&B superstar R. Kelly, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx revealed Monday that her office would not be taking the cases to trial due to “limited resources” and the fact that Kelly is already facing decades in federal prison.
The county cases, all of which accused Kelly of sexual abuse or assault, were filed against the singer in February 2019, shortly after the airing of the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” that resurrected interest in the decades of allegations swirling around Kelly and prompted Foxx to make a personal plea for accusers to come forward.
At a news conference Monday at the Cook County Administration Building, the same place where she’d made that unusual outreach to victims, Foxx said the indictments will be dismissed Tuesday morning during Kelly’s previously scheduled court date at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
Given that Kelly is facing decades in prison on separate federal convictions, Foxx said her office decided “not to expend our limited resources and court time” pursuing its own cases.
“I want to acknowledge that when we brought these charges forward, we brought them because we believe the allegations to be credible, and we believe they deserve to have the opportunity to have the allegations heard,” Foxx said.
Foxx said Kelly’s accusers “are to be commended for their bravery and their relentless pursuit of justice no matter how long it took.”
Rumors have been swirling for weeks that the cases were going to be dropped, particularly after a series of status hearings before Associate Judge Lawrence Flood came and went with no progress toward trial.
Foxx, who noted she herself is a survivor of sexual violence, said her office made the decision after consulting with the victims in each of the four cases. Their reactions were mixed, she said. Some were also involved in the federal cases and were satisfied with the ultimate outcome, especially given that the process of going through the federal cases was stressful.
“For those who did not have an opportunity to put their hand on the Bible, or who have felt for the last 20 years that their pain was not recognized, certainly this is a disappointing day for them,” Foxx said, noting that one woman was particularly chagrined to learn she would not be getting her day in court.
“Her pain and her case was no less significant than the others,” Foxx said, noting that the office brought the charges because they found the allegations credible.
In an exclusive interview Monday night, Lanita Carter — the woman at the center of one of the Cook County indictments — said she believes she is the woman Foxx was referring to.
Carter told police in 2003 that Kelly sexually abused her in a particularly degrading manner when she arrived for an appointment to braid his hair. No charges were filed back then. And when she learned prosecutors were dropping the 2019 indictment, she was devastated, she said.
“It made me feel so low. And it just, it made me feel like I didn’t matter again, just like I didn’t in 2003. I wanted to matter this time,” she said. “And I spoke out because I believed that everybody was going to do something, and I felt stronger. And it didn’t happen for me.”
“If you believe me, then you fight for me. If you believe me, you advocate for me,” she said.
Kelly’s attorney, Steven Greenberg, said he was happy with Foxx’s decision, but that it reinforced his belief that the charges were an inappropriate reaction to a one-sided television series at the height of the #MeToo movement.
“As I’ve said all along, I don’t think these charges should have been brought in the first place,” Greenberg said. “I think that these cases were reactionary. The idea of soliciting so-called victims was ill-advised and never should have happened.”
Jennifer Bonjean, another of Kelly’s attorneys, said that taking him to trial in Cook County — particularly on the cases that involved the same victims and conduct for which he was already tried federally, would be piling on.
“He only has one life to give,” she said. “I think it was a good use of prosecutorial discretion.”
Kelly, 56, who remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in the Loop, is not expected to appear at the courthouse when the charges are dropped Tuesday.
The county cases made international headlines when they were announced four years ago. Reporters mobbed him as he turned himself in to the Central District police station, and fans played his music while they waited for him to bail out of jail. After his release, Kelly did his now-infamous interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning,” and bloggers began to chronicle and dissect every aspect of the cases against him.
But the once-explosive indictments soon took a back seat to a pair of federal investigations by U.S. attorney’s offices in New York and Chicago that led to separate indictments announced in July 2019.
Kelly was convicted in New York of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced in June to 30 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on convictions last September related to child pornography and sexual misconduct with minors.
The federal convictions forced Cook County prosecutors into a tough calculation. If they brought him to trial and won, it would have little concrete effect on Kelly, who is expected to spend decades in federal custody no matter what they do. If they lost, it would prove highly embarrassing for the office that announced charges earliest and with great gusto.
Either route would have cost significant time and resources, and potentially require victims to relive traumatic moments on a very public witness stand.
One of the Cook County cases centered on Jerhonda Pace, who was a key witness against Kelly at his New York federal trial last year. Another focused on videos of Kelly abusing his then-teenage goddaughter, which jurors in Kelly’s Chicago federal trial viewed over the summer. Kelly’s defense had previously indicated it would attempt to have a judge throw out those cases on the grounds they were similar to the conduct for which he was convicted federally.
A third Cook County case centered on a woman identified as H.W., who accused Kelly of having sexual contact with her when she was just 16. A fourth indictment centered on Carter’s accusations.
After the federal charges were brought, Flood repeatedly said they should not impede the progress of the county cases.
“I understand there’s two other matters in federal court, New York and in Chicago,” he said from the bench in December 2019. “That’s not really the concern of this court. These victims are entitled to their day in court just as the other people in the other cases.”
After saying that, he set the date for Kelly’s first Cook County trial in September 2020. That did not happen, at least partially because the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In 2021, after Kelly’s conviction in New York, Foxx told the Tribune that county prosecutors agreed to remain in a “pretrial posture” while the federal cases played out.
But even after both federal trials concluded, the county cases continued to stall, holding hearing after hearing with little apparent progress.
Kelly, a Chicago native, got his start busking in subway stations before rocketing to fame with hits such as “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition: Remix.”
Allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers dogged him for years, and were first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times more than two decades ago.
Cook County prosecutors in 2002 charged him with child pornography, alleging he filmed himself having sex with his 14-year-old goddaughter. He was acquitted six years later after a bombastic trial during which the victim never testified.
In the years after that, he enjoyed something of a career renaissance, playing the Pitchfork Music Festival in his hometown in 2013 and collaborating with artists such as Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey.
But controversy continued to swirl around him, and came to a head a few years later driven largely by investigative stories by music critic and reporter Jim DeRogatis in BuzzFeed and The New Yorker, as well as damning accusations in the blockbuster Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
After the documentary aired in January 2019, Foxx held an unusual news conference, saying she was “sickened” by the allegations and putting out a public plea for Kelly’s accusers to come forward.
The Cook County indictments were announced about a month later, and the federal indictments were brought down later that year.
A federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Kelly in 2021 on racketeering conspiracy charges alleging his musical career doubled as a criminal enterprise aimed at satisfying his predatory sexual desires. That case resulted in the 30-year sentence.
The latest conviction came in September in Chicago’s federal courthouse, where Kelly was found guilty of abusing his 14-year-old goddaughter on videotape in the 1990s, as well as sexual misconduct with two other minors around the same time period.
The same jury acquitted Kelly on charges that he rigged his 2008 trial, but he still faces 10 to 90 years in prison when he’s sentenced Feb. 23 by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber.
“(Kelly) having been held accountable for his actions … the use of our limited resources would require that we put those resources in advocacy for other survivors of sexual abuse,” Foxx said, noting the office is handling hundreds of other lower-profile sex-crimes cases, many of which involve survivors who are people of color.
“I want to make sure the announcement today, and the fact that we are no longer going to pursue these cases, is not an indication that we don’t see them,” she said, promising her office will “actively work on their behalf to bring them justice.”