Brow Beat

Former R. Kelly Lawyer Says His Client Was “Guilty As Hell”

He also says “Ignition” was originally about a high school driving instructor but that he convinced Kelly to change the lyrics.

Edward Genson and R. Kelly.
Edward Genson and R. Kelly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images; Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for BET.

Back in 2008, Edward Genson was the lead attorney on the team that got R. Kelly acquitted of child pornography charges. Now, a little more than a decade later, Genson has told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg that Kelly was “guilty as hell” in that case. He also said that he gave the R&B star, who was recently indicted on 10 counts of sexual abuse, some crucial lyrical pointers.

Genson, who also defended disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and media tycoon Conrad Black, is a celebrity himself in Chicago legal circles. “To people accused of doing bad things—embezzling millions, bribing judges, putting a bullet in someone’s head—Ed Genson may be the go-to lawyer in town,” Chicago magazine explained in a 2005 profile. Genson’s personal courtroom style can best be described as theatrical belligerence. When I covered Kelly’s 2008 trial, I described Genson as “a man in search of a camera.” In one memorable exchange, he shouted at a witness—the alleged victim’s aunt, Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards—that she was only testifying because she wanted Kelly’s money. “Sweetie, I am not trying to get any money with this,” Edwards said. “I am not your sweetie,” Genson replied.

Back then, Genson used a cane in the courtroom and a scooter outside it, as he struggled to walk due to a neuromuscular disease. The attorney, who’s now 77, has since taken a turn for the worse healthwise, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer a year and a half ago. That diagnosis appears to have loosened his lips. “I can say whatever I want, but we’ve got to do it fast,” he told the Sun-Times’ Steinberg.

Among the things Genson told Steinberg: that Kelly was “guilty as hell!” (The exclamation point is Steinberg’s.) Genson, who to state the obvious is no longer on Kelly’s defense team, added, “I don’t think he’s done anything inappropriate for years. I’ll tell you a secret: I had him go to a doctor to get shots, libido-killing shots. That’s why he didn’t get arrested for anything else.”

Genson also told Steinberg that “he knew Kelly was attracted to young girls” when he heard the lyrics to “Ignition.”

“I was riding in the car, listening to a song, and said, ‘Are you crazy? This is all I need.’ He re-wrote it.” Genson continued, “It was originally a high school instructor in a class teaching people how to drive a car. I changed the words.”

It’s not entirely clear if Genson is suggesting he, the lawyer, literally rewrote “Ignition.” (Note: “Ignition” is not to be confused with “Ignition (Remix),” which has very different lyrics.) Regardless, the version of the song that Kelly released does include some material that could pertain to driving instruction:

Now hold on tight cause I’m about to go faster, babe

Girl, you dealing with a pro behind this wheel, babe

So tell me have you ever driven a stick, babe?

You’ll be screamin’ every time we shift them gears, babe

So brace yourself while I’m hittin’ them corners, babe

In his recent interview with CBS’s Gayle King, Kelly described the new allegations against him as “stupid.” “How stupid would it be for R. Kelly, with all I’ve been through in my way, way past, to hold somebody?” he asked King.

In his interview with Steinberg, Genson grabbed for Occam’s razor, arguing that Kelly is “not a very bright person.” Genson also said that he believed the 2008 verdict had emboldened the singer. “If you win a case with somebody, they think they’re bulletproof,” the lawyer argued. “He thinks he can do whatever the hell he wants.”