R. Kelly seeks release from prison, citing fears he’ll catch coronavirus

R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2019. Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool, File)

R. Kelly has asked a judge to free him from federal jail in Chicago on Thursday as he awaits trial on child pornography and other charges.

A court filing by his lawyers claims the spread of the new coronavirus behind bars puts Kelly’s life at risk.

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Sanitizer and soap are hard to come by in the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), with most of its 700 inmates held in small, two-person cells that make the kind of social distancing called for to thwart the transmission of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, impossible, the filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago says.

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READ MORE: Bill Cosby’s lawyers fear he’ll contract coronavirus in prison

The I Believe I Can Fly singer faces several dozen counts of state and federal sexual misconduct charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York, from sexual assault to heading a racketeering scheme aimed at supplying him with girls. Kelly has denied ever abusing anyone.

While the MCC barred most visitors on March 13, there are few detectable protocols for screening lawyers, guards and new detainees still entering the facility to check if they might be infected, the filing says. The visiting floor has sanitizer, but a sign next to the single bottle available says, “STAFF ONLY,” and a bathroom on the same floor often has no soap, according to the filing.

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“The health risk to Mr. Kelly, because of his age and existing health issues, especially considering the conditions at the MCC, necessitates his release on bail,” the filing says.

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The 18-page filing did not describe the 53-year-old singer’s health issues, but it said he was within the category of people described as high-risk by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The courts have long recognized that there is no greater necessity than keeping a defendant alive, no matter the charge,” the filing says.

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If Kelly is released, he would live with his girlfriend, Joycelyn Savage, at a Chicago loft apartment and could remain on home confinement with an electronic monitor, the filing says. His trial date in Chicago is Oct. 13.

The judge in his federal case in New York also ordered Kelly be detained while awaiting trial, so Kelly’s lawyers would have to persuade that judge to grant him bail before he could be freed in Chicago.

Kelly is not the only celebrity asking to be freed from jail during the new coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this week, lawyers for Bill Cosby revealed they are “considering filing a motion” for an early release date for the convicted comedian as the new coronavirus pandemic continues.

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His lawyers fear Cosby will contract the new coronavirus in prison and are asking that he spend the remainder of his sentence at home.

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The 82-year-old actor is serving a three- to 10-year sentence at State Correctional Institution Phoenix after being convicted in 2018 of sexually assaulting a woman.

Cosby’s spokesperson fears he will contract the illness from an inmate or a staff member in charge of taking care of him because he is blind.

“The reason: Mr. Cosby is elderly and blind — and always needs to be escorted around the prison by support service inmates, known as Certified Peer Specialists (CPI),” spokesman Andrew Wyatt said. “Those inmates could fall victim to the coronavirus and easily spread the disease to Mr. Cosby as they wheel him around in a wheelchair. Among their duties, the inmates bring Mr. Cosby to the infirmary for his doctor appointments and clean his cell.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

— With files from the Associated Press

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