CHICAGO (CBS) — R. Kelly is again asking a federal judge in New York to release him from the federal lockup in Chicago while awaiting trial on multiple sex crime charges, after his lawyers learned several inmates and staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The motion filed with U.S. District Judge Ann Donelly says six inmates and seven staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. The federal Bureau of Prisons website says four inmates and 10 staff have confirmed cases.
“That Mr. Kelly will be infected with this deadly disease, is now unfortunately an absolute probability,” Kelly’s lawyers wrote.
Kelly’s attorneys argue that inmates at the jail are now “experiencing tremendous stress and anxiety” due to the spread of the virus behind bars.
“The only thing the MCC has done is lock things down, making conditions feel more like solitary confinement; and possibly, because of the nature of this virus, locking in healthy inmates with those who already have the virus but who may not yet be symptomatic. The virus has now more than ‘hit home’ at the MCC Chicago,” the motion states.
Federal prosecutors, however, noted Donnelly rejected his previous request for release due to the coronavirus outbreak, because he is still considered a flight risk and a potential danger to the community, particularly witnesses in the case. Donnelly also had ruled Kelly had not demonstrated he is particularly vulnerable to the virus, despite his attorney’s claims he is at risk because of his age and health.
“None of these circumstances have changed and the permanent order of detention should remain in place,” prosecutors wrote.
Kelly’s attorneys argue the court could impose a number of restrictions on him if he’s released; such as placing him on electronic monitoring and come confinement, prohibiting him from using any form of electronic device, and limiting his contact with anyone outside his home other than his attorneys. They also said he ‘would be perhaps the most obvious and recognizable person on the streets of Chicago, or anywhere else in the country” if he were to try to flee, and said he is afraid of flying and has no passport or other identification for travel.
“With all of that in place, there seems to be no valid reason for this Court not to exercise its discretion for this presumed innocent Defendant, and simply ‘secure his detainment’ in another location, as has been done all over the country for inmates within the federal system,” Kelly’s team wrote.
Prosecutors have argued Kelly cannot be trusted to abide by the terms of bail, noting he is now charged with trying to bribe and coerce witnesses and victims in his 2008 child pornography trial.
“There is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed at least five serious crimes while on bail awaiting trial in Cook County. Far from suggesting the defendant should be released on bail, a consideration of the defendant’s “history of compliance” leads to the inexorable conclusion already reached by the Court: the defendant is a danger to the community and his release presents a serious risk of obstruction,” prosecutors wrote.
It’s unclear how soon Donnelly will rule on Kelly’s latest request. On Thursday, the judge pushed back his federal trial in New York from July to late September.
Kelly faces sex crime charges in four separate jurisdictions in Chicago, New York, and Minnesota.
The federal charges in New York accuse Kelly of using his fame to recruit young women and girls for illegal sexual activity. The racketeering case also accuses him of kidnapping, sexual exploitation of a child, and forced labor. Jury selection in that case is now scheduled to begin on Sept. 29.
Federal prosecutors in Chicago have charged him with videotaping himself having sex with underage girls, and paying hush money and intimidating witnesses to cover up his crimes. That trial is scheduled for October.
Cook County prosecutors have charged Kelly with multiple counts of sexual assault and sexual abuse against four women years ago. The first of those trials is scheduled for September.
Minnesota prosecutors have charged him with engaging in prostitution with an underage girl. No trial date has been set in that case.
It’s unclear if any of Kelly’s trials will be held as currently scheduled, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If convicted of all the charges, Kelly could face the rest of his life in prison.