Federal judge denies R. Kelly’s request to be released from Chicago prison over COVID-19 concerns

Nation/World
Singer R. Kelly turns to leave after appearing at a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Sept. 17, 2019, in Chicago, Ill. (Antonio Perez - Pool via Getty Images)

Singer R. Kelly turns to leave after appearing at a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Sept. 17, 2019, in Chicago, Ill. (Antonio Perez – Pool via Getty Images)

 A federal judge Tuesday denied singer R. Kelly’s request to be released from a Chicago federal prison due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kelly’s attorney asked March 26 that his client be released on bail, arguing that he is at risk of contracting coronavirus.

Because the Bureau of Prisons has suspended legal and social visits as part of its efforts to prevent coronavirus outbreaks at its facilities, the singer hasn’t been able to meet with his attorneys, his legal team further argued.

US District Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York, who is presiding over one of two federal cases again Kelly, was not convinced.

The defendant had not demonstrated any change in circumstances to counter the court’s previous conclusion “that he is a flight risk and that he poses danger to the community, particularly to prospective witnesses,” she said in a ruling.

Kelly is being held without bail awaiting trial on numerous allegations of sexual offenses. The charges are filed in federal courts in Illinois and New York. He has denied the allegations.

The 53-year-old singer had surgery during his incarceration, Donnelly’s order noted, but “he does not explain how his surgical history places him at a higher risk of severe illness.”

The judge’s order did not specify what kind of surgery Kelly had.

Prison officials have advised the government that doctors have completed Kelly’s treatment, the order said.

There are also no confirmed cases of Covid-19 at Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago, where Kelly is confined, Donnelly said.

The crux of Kelly’s argument, the judge wrote, is that the social distancing measures that prison officials instituted are interfering with his ability to prepare for his upcoming New York trial, which is set to begin July 7.

It appears unlikely to begin on schedule, Donnelly said. Kelly has continued discussing his case with his attorneys via phone, most recently on March 18, she noted.

Kelly’s release would be appropriate only if he can show that he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community, which hasn’t been the case, the judge said.

“The defendant is currently in custody because of the risks that he will flee or attempt to obstruct, threaten or intimidate prospective witnesses. The defendant has not explained how those risks have changed,” Donnelly wrote.

Kelly’s lawyer, Steve Greenberg, declined comment Tuesday when reached by CNN.

Kelly is facing charges in New York including racketeering and violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits sex trafficking across state lines. Prosecutors with the the US Northern District of Illinois charged him with child pornography and other crimes earlier this year.

The two indictments encompass 22 federal charges involving 11 alleged victims, some of them girls, between 1994 and 2018. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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