R. Kelly's explosive interview with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King, which aired this week, was done at the advice of counsel. His attorney, Steve Greenberg, told Billboard, though, that the decision for Kelly to go on the air and plead his case directly to the public "wasn’t a ‘legal’ strategy, it was a life strategy.” Criminal defense experts contend, however, that the plan backfired disastrously. “It’s a rare case when it’s a good idea for the accused to sit for an interview,” says Mark Geragos, criminal attorney who has represented Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder. “This was not that rare case.”
Kelly, who is facing 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse charges involving four women, three of whom the prosecution is alleging were underage at the time -- and if convicted, up to 70 years in prison -- sat down with King with the intention of explaining his version of events. Instead of swaying public opinion, the 52-year-old singer showed that he was emotionally ill-equipped to handle questioning related to the charges. At one point during the 80-minute interview, which will air more substantially on Friday (March 8) at 8 p.m. as part of an hour-long CBS primetime special, Kelly broke down in tears saying he was “fighting for my fucking life.” Adding to his troubles, after excerpts of the interview aired Wednesday, Kelly was re-arrested on charges of failure to pay his ex-wife more than $160,000 in child support. He is still being held in jail.
And while Kelly and his legal team might have hoped that the sit down with King would allow Kelly to sway public sentiment in his favor, criminal defense attorneys who viewed the interview predict it had the opposite effect.
Former federal prosecutor Priya Sopori says Kelly made several potentially damaging admissions during the interview that only served to support the case the prosecutors are building against him. His confirmation of having two young girlfriends -- Jocelyn Savage, 23, and Azriel Clary, 21 -- Sopori explains, could be used as character evidence that he is not monogamous and that he maintains relationships with women who are in their early 20s. Kelly also told King that his girlfriends' parents handed their daughters over to him when they were even younger and that he didn’t have sex with the then-17-year-old Clary when he met her though “her parents wanted me to.”
Prosecutors could delve into these statements during depositions and pre-trial motions, and could even seek to introduce them at trial.
According to Sopori, the most damaging aspect of the interview was Kelly’s behavior towards King. “He is going to be on trial for the way he treats girls and women,” Sopori says. "So to see him behaving in a manner so aggressively and emotionally, with a high temper, in such close proximity to a woman asking him questions -- it is going to be hard to separate that behavior from his conduct.”
The former prosecutor added, “It is difficult to watch that interview and to not be concerned for Gayle King’s safety and that would be the opposite of the image he wanted to project. In 20/20 hindsight, the interview was a terrible mistake.”
Criminal attorney Harland Braun, whose clients have included Rihanna, Robert Blake and, more recently, Mexican actress and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmánconfidant Kate del Castillo, says there appeared to be no strategic reason for Kelly to go on national television.
Braun says pre-trial television interviews can, in certain circumstances, serve as a vehicle to explain to a potential jury pool or even to the prosecution, extenuating factors that they might not have considered. He says he once put a doctor facing murder charges on 60 Minutes because he felt it was necessary pre-trial to explain the medical parameters regarding disconnecting an IV from a comatose patient.
That said, interviews, like putting a client on the stand, are risky: "The unscripted setting leaves little room for mistakes and carries high risks because a prosecutor could seek to introduce any damning statements at trial," Braun explains. "The client must be prepared to answer any question thrown at him."
“[Kelly] certainly wasn’t ready for it if he flipped out that way,” Braun says of the R&B artist's volatile on-camera behavior. “I just couldn’t understand what the purpose of it was. With all these charges against him, who was he trying to reach or convince?"
Attorney Lisa Bloom calls Kelly's interview “a master class in how NOT to respond when you have multiple women accusing you of sexual assault.”
“He had the right to remain silent, but not the ability,” Bloom says. “And his constant interrupting of Gayle King, pointing his finger in her face, looming over her, ranting and yelling -- knowing he was on camera and surrounded by a crew -- terrifies me as to how he treats young, dependent women behind closed doors. ... For the sake of his victims, I'm so glad he did this interview. I encourage him to do many, many more.”