A federal judge on Tuesday again denied a request from accused serial sexual abuser R. Kelly to get out of jail, citing the seriousness of the litany of charges he faces.
Lawyers for the disgraced R&B singer have twice filed motions to get him released from Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he is awaiting two federal trials scheduled for later this year. Kelly is accused of a yearslong pattern of sexual abuse, including holding women and girls against their will.
Over the past few weeks, a growing number of inmates and staff at the Chicago jail have tested positive for COVID-19, including an inmate on Kelly’s floor, according to prison officials and attorneys. Prisons and jails across the country have reported coronavirus outbreaks, and overcrowding creates conditions ripe for the virus to spread.
In rejecting Kelly’s request for release, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly acknowledged the worsening conditions at the jail. But she argued that Kelly remains “a danger to the community,” saying it’s possible he might intimidate or tamper with potential witnesses.
“Even aside from the risk of flight, the risk that the defendant would try to obstruct justice or intimidate prospective witnesses has not dissipated, and poses a danger to the community,” she wrote in a court filing. “Given the pandemic, where the judicial system’s oversight capabilities are curtailed, these measures simply are not viable — they cannot ensure that a defendant with a history, incentive and opportunity to interfere with potential witnesses will not do so.”
Kelly’s lawyers want him to be held in home confinement at an apartment in Chicago, while wearing a tracking device. But federal prosecutors have argued that Kelly “still has the financial means” to flee, should he be released.
On April 7, Donnelly denied Kelly’s earlier request for release, citing similar reasons. She also noted that Kelly, 53, is not in the age range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers high-risk for COVID-19. In addition, she rejected his lawyers’ claims that a surgery in January put him at greater risk of contracting the disease, because all treatment for the surgery, which was reportedly to repair a hernia, has been completed.
Kelly’s lawyers have also argued that the social distancing guidelines recommended by public health experts make it difficult for them to meet with Kelly in preparation for his two federal trials, for charges faced in New York and Chicago. But Donnelly noted they can correspond with Kelly over phone, video or email.
Last week, Donnelly postponed the start of Kelly’s New York trial from July to September because of the pandemic. His Chicago trial remains scheduled for October.