R. Kelly’s Defense Team Just Compared Him to … MLK?

R. Kelly confers with his lawyers Deveraux Cannick, Nicole Blank Becker, and Thomas Farinella. Illustration: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

It has been a wild and often profoundly upsetting six-week road to closing arguments in R. Kelly’s racketeering trial, and the defense team maintained that energy until the very end. In his last address to the jury, Kelly’s attorney, Deveraux Cannick, evoked the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reportedly drawing a dramatic comparison between the legendary civil rights leader and the disgraced singer. The logic behind this rhetorical flourish remains unclear, but we will do our best.

According to both the New York Post and Daily News, Cannick quoted from King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to make a point about, and here I must ask you to just bear with me, constitutionally guaranteed rights. “Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech,” he said. “Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly.” Purportedly like Dr. King, Kelly simply wants to force the American government to “be true to what’s on paper,” i.e., laws … ? “That’s all Robert is trying to do,” Cannick urged.

Kelly has been charged with running an organized sex-trafficking operation; over the course of his Brooklyn trial, 11 of the people he allegedly abused — by coercing them into sex; subjecting them to physical and verbal punishment when they failed to follow his stringent rules; siloing them inside his home; and, in one case, imprisoning and raping a woman tasked with interviewing him for a radio station — recounted eerily similar experiences with a mercurial and manipulative man. Many of those who gave testimony say they were minors when Kelly began grooming them. Cannick painted these witnesses as liars, telling the jury, “He didn’t have to recruit women.”

If you are not quite seeing where that links up with King’s work to compel the government to confer human rights equally, I see your point and I’m right there with you. It probably won’t help you to know that Cannick extended his comparison to include not just Kelly, but all of the jurors, too. “See, unlike Dr. King and those who were like-minded, you don’t have to worry about atrocities,” he told them, per the New York Times. “You just have to be courageous and fair.”

“You don’t have to worry about being beaten, maimed, or killed,” he added, per the Daily News. “You just have to do your job.”

Feeling lost? Confused? Vaguely threatened? Yeah. I will let the prosecution take it from here. “It is now time for the defendant, Robert Kelly, to pay for his crimes,” attorney Elizabeth Geddes said in her closing statement. “Convict him.” Clear enough!

R. Kelly’s Defense Team Just Compared Him to … MLK?