Nearly a month into the rape trial of Jelani Maraj of Baldwin, the brother of rapper Nicki Minaj, jurors Monday pondered a simple question at the heart of the case. Did Maraj repeatedly rape his stepdaughter in 2015, or was it a tale concocted by the alleged victim and her mother to extort millions from his world famous sister?
Attorneys on both sides started closing arguments in a Mineola courtroom Monday and posed the query.
“It happened or it didn’t,” Nassau Assistant District Attorney Emma Slane told jurors.
Maraj was arrested Dec. 1, 2015, and charged with predatory sexual assault against a child, which carries a punishment of life in prison. He also faces second-degree course of sexual conduct and a misdemeanor count of acting in a manner likely to injure a child.
Slane told the jury of four women and eight men they should believe the alleged victim, now 14, who testified in great detail about how Maraj, the man she trusted and loved, sexually assaulted her from April to November 2015 in their five-bedroom house while her mother was at work.
The girl’s account, Slane said, was corroborated by her younger brother who testified that in 2015, when he was 8 years old, he searched the house for his big sister and saw Maraj and the girl, both with their pants down, and Maraj’s “private parts” touched his sister.
“You have the power to speak — tell those children you heard them,” Slane urged jurors.
Newsday does not publish the names of alleged sexual abuse victims.
Slane also reminded jurors that authorities found his semen in the groin area of the girl’s pajama pants. A prosecution expert testified that it was a 1-in-291-billion match to Maraj’s DNA, Slane said.
Defense attorney David Schwartz told jurors his client’s ex-wife, whom Maraj married in August 2015, devised the rape allegations and coerced her children to go along with the scheme to “shake down” the family for $25 million.
Soon after Maraj was arrested, Schwartz said, Maraj’s ex-wife consulted a civil attorney. Schwartz said the civil attorney demanded $25 million to make the criminal and civil cases go away. However, no civil case was ever filed against Maraj.
“There are 25 million reasons why these people have lied from day one,” Schwartz said.
At the summer wedding, Schwartz said the alleged victim was laughing and dancing with Maraj, the man she accused of sexually assaulting her. And, Schwartz asked jurors to consider why the girl and her brother didn’t try to stop their mother from marrying Maraj in August while the alleged rape was happening.
“It just doesn’t make any sense in the world,” Schwartz said.
As for the DNA evidence, Schwartz told jurors that Maraj’s ex-wife planted his semen on her daughter’s pajama pants.
Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberations Wednesday after state Supreme Court Justice Robert McDonald instructs them on the law.