R. Kelly’s federal trial on allegations that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial and enticed minor girls for sex is about the R&B singer’s “hidden side,” a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Jason Julien said during opening statements that much of the world knew Kelly by his hit song I Believe I Can Fly. That was “Kelly’s public side,” he said, noting Kelly also had a dark, hidden side. “This trial is about Kelly’s hidden side.”
In her opening statement, Kelly’s lawyer implored jurors not to accept what she said is the prosecution’s portrayal of her client as a monster.
“When the government wants to paint him as a monster … you remember we are talking about a human being,” said Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly’s lead attorney.
Bonjean also warned jurors not to succumb to what she called “a mob justice climate” surrounding Kelly, alluding to the six-part documentary, Surviving R. Kelly, and years of harsh comments about him on social media.
“It is true that Mr. Kelly is imperfect,” she said. “On his journey from poverty to stardom, he stumbled along the way.” But she said she was confident jurors would ultimately find him not guilty.
Kelly is charged in federal court in his hometown of Chicago with enticing minors for sex, producing child pornography and rigging his 2008 child pornography trial at which he was acquitted.
Some jurors watched at least part of documentary
Julien sought to give jurors a sense of the scale of Kelly’s alleged exploitation, saying he “repeatedly” had sex with girls who were just 14, 15 and 16 years old — “multiple girls, hundreds of times.”
Both the prosecution and Kelly’s legal team told the judge earlier in the week that they would like about an hour each to tell jurors about the kind of evidence they can expect to see and hear. The evidentiary stage of the federal trial is expected to last about a month.
Lawyers for two Kelly co-defendants will also address jurors before the government begins calling witnesses later Wednesday. Prosecutors haven’t said who they will call first.
The jury was chosen Tuesday night with prosecutors and defence attorneys arguing toward the end of the process about whether the government was improperly attempting to keep some Black people off the jury. Kelly is Black.
About half of the 12 jurors chosen were identified as Black by the judge, prosecutor and defence attorneys.
Some of the jurors selected had watched at least part of a six-part documentary series, Surviving R. Kelly, about sex abuse allegations against the Grammy award-winning singer.
Watching it wasn’t an automatic disqualification as long as a would-be juror could assure U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber they could still be impartial.
Conduct during 2008 case at centre of new trial
One central focus of the trial will be on whether Kelly threatened and paid off a girl with whom he allegedly videotaped himself having sex when he was about 30 and she was no older than 14. That’s the allegation underpinning 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 in her 30s and referred to in court filings only as “Minor 1,” will be the government’s star witness. Prosecutors have said they will refer to her by the pseudonym “Jane” in court.
Kelly, 55, was already sentenced by a New York federal judge to a 30-year prison term for a 2021 conviction on charges that he used his fame to sexually abuse young fans.
Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, will be around 80 before qualifying for early release based on his sentence imposed in New York, which he is appealing.
Kelly faces four counts of enticement of minors for sex — one each for four other accusers. They, too, are expected to testify in the Chicago trial.
Two Kelly associates, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, are co-defendants at the Chicago trial. McDavid is accused of helping Kelly fix the 2008 trial, while Brown is charged with receiving child pornography. Like Kelly, they also have denied wrongdoing.
A recording of Kelly allegedly sexually assaulting Minor 1 was at the heart of the monthlong 2008 trial and was played for jurors almost every day. She was expected to testify about it during this trial.
Prosecutors say Kelly threatened and sought to pay off Minor 1 and her parents so they wouldn’t testify in 2008. None of them did.