A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a request from R. Kelly to be temporarily released from a Chicago jail over fears that the R&B singer risks contracting coronavirus while locked up.
U.S District Court Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York denied the 53-year-old Kelly's motion for bail, ruling the Grammy-winning entertainer failed to establish that he is in a high-risk category to contract the virus, which has killed at least 118 people in Chicago and infected more than 5,000.
"While I am sympathetic to the defendant’s understandable anxiety about COVID-19, he has not established compelling reasons warranting his release," Donnelly wrote in her ruling.
In an effort to blunt the spread of coronavirus in federal prisons and detention centers, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a March 26 directive to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal to reduce the number of inmates in the prison system by transferring nonviolent, at-risk inmates to home confinement based on a thorough case-by-case analysis.
As of Thursday afternoon, 241 federal inmates and 72 BOP staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide, according to the Bureau of Prisons. There have been eight federal inmate deaths and no BOP staff members have succombed to the COVID-19 disease, according to the BOP.
Donnelly noted that at the time she made her ruling that were no confirmed cases of coronavirus at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, where Kelly is being held pending trial. As of Tuesday afternoon, three staffers at MCC Chicago had tested positive for coronavirus, but none of the inmates had, according to the BOP.
Kelly is being held without bail at the facility on a 13-count indictment, including charges of child pornography, the sexual exploitation of children, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and coercion or enticement of a female. The singer is also facing federal charges in New York, including one count of racketeering and four counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits sexual trafficking across state lines.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to charges filed against him in both New York and Chicago.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorize people 65 or older or with underlying health conditions as those most vulnerable to catch the virus.
"The defendant is 53 years old, twelve years younger than the cohort of “older adults” defined by the CDC as at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19," Donnelly's ruling reads.
"Although the defendant has had surgery during his incarceration, he does not explain how his surgical history places him at a higher risk of severe illness. Moreover, officials in Chicago have advised the government that doctors have completed all treatment for the defendant’s recent operation."
The type of surgery Kelly recently underwent was redacted from the court records.
Federal prosecutors filed a motion recommending Donnelly deny Kelly's request, cautioning that "if released, there is a risk that the defendant will flee and that the defendant will obstruct, attempt to obstruct, threaten, intimidate or attempt to threaten or intimidate one or more prospective witnesses."
While Kelly made the same request for temporary release to a federal judge in Chicago, that pending decision appears moot because Kelly would need approval from both courts before he could be granted bail.
In October, Donnelly ordered Kelly, whose full name is Robert Kelly, to be held without bail after the judge agreed with prosecutors that freeing him would create a risk of him fleeing or tampering with witnesses. She set a May 18 trial date for the New York case.
"The defendant here has not demonstrated an analogous change in circumstances that would alter the Court’s conclusion that he is a flight risk and that he poses danger to the community, particularly to prospective witnesses," Donnelly concluded in her ruling Tuesday.