11 new sex-assault charges up legal ante for singer R. Kelly
The reasons start with the fact that the 11 new counts include four counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault — a Class X felony that carries a sentence up to 30 years — more than four times as long as the sentence that each of the 10 counts Kelly was charged with and pleaded not guilty to in February.
"By doing this they have enhanced the penalty if he's convicted," Joe Lopez, a Chicago defense attorney, said Friday. And perhaps more significantly, he said that even with the original 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse that Kelly was charged with in February there was a possibility that he could have been placed on probation and avoided prison.
But, Lopez said, if Kelly is convicted of any one of the four counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, he must go to prison.
Of more immediate concern to Kelly might be what happens when he returns to court next Thursday to hear the new charges.
"I would not be surprised at all if prosecutors come to court and ask the judge to increase the bail amount," said Dick Devine, a private attorney who was the Cook County State's Attorney for a dozen years until 2008. Any substantial increase could send Kelly back to jail. Kelly, whose financial problems have been widely reported, spent a few days behind bars when he was originally charged in February until a suburban woman posted the 10% of $1 million bond — $100,000 — to secure his release.
But various legal experts say there is not much chance of prosecutors asking for such an increase or a judge granting that request if they do.
Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg, said he is optimistic that the bail mount won't be increased.
"He's not a flight risk and (while) they may have changed the charges it doesn't change the fact that he's not a flight risk and we expect bail to remain the same," Greenberg said of Kelly.
In the long term, one former federal prosecutor suggested that the new charges are likely part of a legal strategy to increase the chances of a conviction.
"What happens is they charged the same thing in different ways because they obviously want to have the greatest chance at conviction and maybe they looked at the indictment and saw (Kelly's attorneys) might have a defense and they wanted to seal off that defense," said Phil Turner, who is now a Chicago defense attorney.
According to the new court filing, the first eight counts are from encounters that allegedly occurred between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, 2010. Three others pertain to alleged encounters between May 1, 2009, and Jan. 31, 2010.
Among other things, prosecutors allege that Kelly used force or threatened to do so to pressure the accuser into sex or to perform oral sex on him. She was underage at the time, extending the statute of limitations for bringing charges to 20 years from her 18th birthday, they wrote.
Since the new charges were announced, a woman has come forward to say publicly that 11 new sex-related felony counts against R. Kelly stem from allegations she made about the R&B singer.
Jerhonda Pace writes on her Facebook page that she's the alleged victim prosecutors identify as "J.P." in court papers. Anticipating an angry reaction by Kelly's fans, Pace — one of four women Kelly is charged with sexually abusing — wrote that "no matter how "wrong" you think I am, the law is on my side, a MINOR at the time."
The Associated Press doesn't usually name alleged victims of sexual assault, but Pace has gone public with her allegations.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.