A federal jury convened Tuesday in R. Kelly’s hometown of Chicago to decide the multiple charges against the R&B singer, as prosecutors and defense attorneys argued late in the proceedings over whether the government was improperly trying to keep some blacks off the jury.
Kelly, who is African-American, is accused of enticing minors for sex, producing child pornography and arranging his 2008 state child pornography trial in which he was acquitted.
As the parties began pursuing peremptory challenges, in which they can remove a set number of potential jurors from the pool, Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, accused prosecutors of seeking to beat up blacks “to deny Mr. Kelly a jury.” of their peers”.
Prosecutors noted that several African-Americans had already made it to the jury before the defense objected, and argued that their reasons for wanting to target some had nothing to do with race. In one case, they said an older man seemed to have difficulty staying awake.
Judge Harry Leinenweber partially agreed with the defense, barring prosecutors from removing three blacks from the jury and reinstating them. About half of the 12 jurors were identified as black by the judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys.
Six alternates were also selected.
Some of the selected jurors had seen the final part of a six-part documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” about sexual abuse allegations against the Grammy Award-winning singer. Seeing it was not an automatic disqualification as long as a potential juror could assure Judge Leinenweber that he could still be impartial.
Among the 12 selected jurors was a retired real estate agent who had a son who was a prosecutor and another son who was a defense attorney. Another member of the jury was a librarian.
Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday morning, after which prosecutors will begin calling witnesses.
In all, the judge fired about half of the more than 100 potential jurors who were vetted over two days in a large 25th-floor courtroom in downtown Chicago.
Among those fired were a woman who said she had an unfavorable opinion of police and judges, a woman who said she once took martial arts classes with Kelly’s children and a man who said he didn’t think the IRS should exist. .
Leinenweber tended to dismiss prospective jurors when they expressed even the slightest reservations. He dismissed a juror who said large gatherings make him anxious, and a US postal worker who worried mail would be delayed if she wasn’t there.
Kelly, dressed in a gray suit with a surgical mask over his mouth and nose, followed the proceedings from the defense table, at times appearing to study prospective jurors Tuesday as they answered questions from the judges.
During a break around lunch, several Kelly supporters on the court’s spectator benches made heartbeats with their hands and directed them toward Kelly. She seemed to notice across the courtroom, smiling and nodding.
A central focus of the trial will be whether Kelly threatened and paid off a girl he allegedly videotaped having sex with when he was in his 30s and she was no more than 14. That is the allegation that underpins another of the charges against Kelly, conspiracy. . to obstruct justice.
Jurors in the 2008 child pornography trial acquitted Kelly, with some later explaining that they felt they had no choice because the girl did not testify. The woman, now 30 and referred to in court documents only as “Minor 1,” will be the government’s star witness in the federal trial that is expected to last four weeks.
When she testifies, prosecutors explained in court Monday that they will not use her real name and will not refer to her as Minor 1. Instead, they will call her by a single pseudonym, “Jane.” Kelly’s attorneys suggested they could challenge whether any of her accusers were minors at the time Kelly is charged if they are videotaped or lured.
Kelly, 55, has already been sentenced by a New York federal judge to 30 years in prison for a 2021 conviction on charges that he used his fame to sexually abuse other young fans.
Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, will be in his 80s before qualifying for early release based on his sentence in New York, which he is appealing. A conviction on a single count of production of child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Kelly faces four counts of enticing minors to have sex, one for each of the other four accusers. They are also expected to testify.
Two of Kelly’s associates, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, are co-defendants in the Chicago trial. McDavid is accused of helping Kelly fix the 2008 trial, while Brown is accused of receiving child pornography. Like Kelly, they have also denied any wrongdoing.
Minor 1 is expected to testify that she was on video having sex with Kelly. The recording was at the center of the 2008 trial, which lasted a month, and was heard by jurors almost every day.
Minor 1 first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in high school, according to government filings in pre-trial court. The government maintains that she accompanied her to Kelly’s recording studio in Chicago with her aunt, a professional singer who works with Kelly. Shortly after, Minor 1 told her parents that Kelly would become her godfather.
Prosecutors say Kelly then threatened and tried to pay Minor 1 and her parents not to testify in 2008. Neither of them did.
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