The child-rape trial against Jelani Maraj drew to a close Monday with prosecutors and the defense presenting their closing arguments.
While prosecutors emphasized the bravery of the two children who testified—Maraj’s 14-year-old stepdaughter and her younger brother—and the physical evidence against Maraj, defense attorney David Schwartz pressed the claim that the rape charges were all part of a plot to extort $25 million from Maraj’s sister, rap star Nicki Minaj.
“There are 25 million reasons why these people [have lied],” Schwartz told the courtroom, according to the New York Daily News.
“It’s about money and it’s about revenge against the family, the Maraj family,” he said.
Maraj’s defense team, over the course of two hours, said that Maraj’s former wife and stepdaughter plotted together for years against the 38-year-old man.
“[The mother] needed the marriage first … before breaking out her master plan” of taking all of Nicki Minaj’s money, Schwartz said. “It only took [her] four months to unleash hell on this family.”
Maraj’s team also attempted to discredit the prosecution’s DNA evidence. Police, in a search of Maraj’s home, said they found pajama pants belonging to the young girl with Maraj’s semen on them. The defense claims that the girl and her mother planted the evidence.
The prosecution’s closing arguments were much more succinct, according to the Daily News, and focused on the damning, detailed testimony delivered by Maraj’s two stepchildren.
The 14-year-old girl at the center of the case testified in excruciating detail repeated incidents of the sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her stepfather. The assaults began in their Long Island, N.Y., home when she was 11 years old, she said, and included oral, vaginal and anal rape.
The girl’s account was backed up by her younger brother, who said that he accidentally walked in on Maraj raping his sister when he was 8 years old. The two children said they were told that if they said anything about the abuse, they would be taken away from their mother.
As NewsDay reports, Nassau District Attorney Emma Slane told jurors during closing arguments, “You have the power to speak—tell those children you heard them.”
Despite the defense hinging its case on Maraj’s famous sister, Minaj never took the stand for her brother. As late as Oct. 20, the defense claimed that Minaj would deliver crucial testimony on her brother’s behalf. But after Maraj’s stepson took the stand on Oct. 23, Minaj’s team denied that she had ever intended to testify for the defense.
Maraj is facing charges of predatory sexual assault against a child, as well as second-degree course of sexual conduct. If convicted, he could face life in prison.