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An R. Kelly victim says Chicago prosecutor made a mistake in dropping sex abuse case

The lawyer for a leading accuser of R. Kelly says prosecutors shouldn't have dropped charges against Kelly before his appeals of federal criminal convictions were resolved. The singer is seen here in a courthouse in Chicago.
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The lawyer for a leading accuser of R. Kelly says prosecutors shouldn't have dropped charges against Kelly before his appeals of federal criminal convictions were resolved. The singer is seen here in a courthouse in Chicago.

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said this week that her office is dropping multiple sex-abuse charges against R&B singer R. Kelly, saying he is already facing stern punishment in federal court.

Foxx said that, with Kelly likely to serve "extensive sentences" in prison, her office needs to focus on other abuse cases. A judge dismissed the case on Tuesday, after Foxx announced the move.

But Jerhonda Pace, one of Kelly's victims who testified as part of a successful federal case against him in New York and was also part of the case in Cook County, says she's disappointed by Foxx's decision — in part because Kelly is still fighting to appeal his federal convictions.

Foxx noted that a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., sentenced Kelly to 30 years in prison last June. She added that, pending sentencing, Kelly faces from 10 to 90 years in prison from a conviction in an Illinois federal court last September.

Foxx acknowledged that her decision to halt the case would disappoint the four accusers who stepped forward to speak out against Kelly, 56.

"I understand how hard it was for these victims to come forward and tell their stories," Foxx said, praising the women for their courage.

Through her attorney, David Fish, Pace told NPR that she is disappointed and concerned about the potential effects that dropping the case could have on other abusers and victims:

"While I understand Kelly was convicted in federal court (significantly based on our brave client Jerhonda's Pace's testimony and the evidence we preserved with R Kelly's DNA), his federal cases are being appealed and, if overturned, R. Kelly could get out of prison. This is not just a theoretical concern: we all saw Bill Cosby recently won on appeal and is back doing comedy tours.    

"The Cook County State's Attorney should have proceeded with the case until the appeals were done.  Or it should have sought an agreement whereby R. Kelly agreed not to appeal his federal convictions in exchange for dropping charges in Cook County. The State's Attorney's decision to simply dump the case leaves the community vulnerable to this dangerous man if he wins his appeals."

Fish also questioned Foxx's timing, saying that the prosecutor's office informed Pace about the decision to drop the case back in November. "It is unclear to us why it waited so long to announce the decision publicly."

The first formal charges against Kelly arose in 2002

Chicago is Kelly's hometown — and it's been at the center of decades' worth of accusations and legal proceedings against the singer, who was born Robert Sylvester Kelly.

Some allegations date as far back as 1994, when Kelly, then 27, married Aaliyah, who was then 15. But the first criminal charges came in June 2002, when a grand jury in Cook County indicted Kelly on 21 counts of child pornography related to video recordings showing the singer "having sex and engaging in a variety of lewd acts with an underage girl," as NPR reported.

Those accusations didn't result in a conviction. But in 2019, the Cook County State's Attorney office filed a new set of charges, including counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Months later, the federal cases in Illinois and Brooklyn emerged.

"While this may not be the result they were expecting, due to the sentences that Mr. Kelly is facing, we do feel that justice has been served," Foxx said. "My office will direct our resources to find justice for other victims of sexual abuse who do not have the power of a documentary to bring their abusers to light."

The documentary Foxx was referring to is Surviving R. Kelly, the six-part series that aired on Lifetime in 2019, raising new claims of abuse and statutory rape against the singer. The series prompted more women to speak out, leading to the new charges against Kelly.

Kelly is slated to be sentenced in the federal case in Illinois on Feb. 23. He is also facing criminal charges in Minnesota, where he's accused of engaging in prostitution with a minor.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.