Opening statements in the case against disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly began Wednesday with prosecutors outlining their charges in the plainest language possible.
“The defendant, Robert Kelly, had sexual relations with several children,” aide US Atty said. Jason Julien told the jury. “He made videos of himself having sex with children. And these two (co-)defendants, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, knew about it.
In his prime, Kelly was a high-flying, Grammy-winning legend, Julien said. But he “had another side, a hidden side, a dark side, which he – with the help of McDavid and Brown – did not allow the world to see”.
Julien called Kelly a serial predator who had sex with minors hundreds of times and went to “extraordinary lengths” to cover it up when authorities began investigating.
Julien said the sex included having sex with Kelly’s own goddaughter, “Jane”, including numerous encounters he videotaped. Jurors are expected to view portions of three videotapes showing Kelly having sexual contact with Jane; in two of them, Kelly repeatedly references his “14-year-old” anatomy, Julien said.
Another video allegedly showing child pornography will not be shown to jurors because Kelly and the defendants successfully covered it up, prosecutors say. But witnesses will testify to its existence, said Julien.
When authorities began investigating one of the tapes in the early 2000s, Kelly sent “Jane” and her family on a month-long trip out of the country, and when they returned, they lied to authorities. about the tape at Kelly’s request. Over the next few years, they dug deeper into Kelly’s network, prosecutors said, at one point becoming largely financially dependent on him.
As Kelly awaited trial in Cook County, he and co-defendants went to extensive lengths to locate and conceal other recordings of him with ‘Jane’, prosecutors said, including a payoff that occurred during the 2008 trial, they said.
Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, in turn urged jurors to consider whether Kelly might be a victim himself: “Financial abuse, extortion,” she said.
“There are strong motivations there,” she said. “The government’s case really rests on the testimony of liars, extortionists, people who trafficked in pornography.”
Bonjean acknowledged that many jurors said they knew Kelly and some of the allegations against him.
“(Prosecutors) think their evidence is going to show he’s a serial child molester. That’s what they believe,” Bonjean said. “And it’s true that Mr. Kelly is flawed It’s true that on his journey from poverty to stardom he stumbled along the way It’s important when the government wants to paint him as a monster that you remember we’re talking about a human being We implore you to keep these emotions under control.
Some of the charges against Kelly involve videotaped evidence, which could be difficult to disprove. Other counts will rely heavily on testimony.
Bonjean pointedly reminded jurors to consider each criminal charge against Kelly separately.
Kelly sat hunched over at the defense table throughout opening statements, wearing a dark blue suit and light blue tie. For the most part, he seemed to fix his gaze straight ahead, even when Bonjean reintroduced him to the jury, who sit to his left in the courtroom.
Sometimes during prosecutors’ opening remarks, he shook his head slightly. And when Bonjean told jurors he didn’t expect any special treatment, he nodded.
In opening statements on behalf of McDavid, attorney Vadim Glozman said the former entrepreneur only acted at the behest of Kelly’s accomplished attorneys and investigators, none of whom would have risked their careers to cover up child pornography.
“Doing your job as a lawyer and doing your job as a superstar entrepreneur is not a crime. Succeeding in your efforts is not a crime,” Glozman said.
And by the early 2000s, McDavid had every reason to believe the tape at the center of the Cook County case was illegitimate, Glozman said.
“Because he believed that, there was never any intent to obstruct justice,” he said.
McDavid will take the stand and testify on his own behalf, Glozman said.
Opening statements began after two full days of jury selection. The 12 jurors and six alternates were sworn in on Tuesday evening. They are expected to hear evidence and arguments over the next four weeks or so.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber took the bench around 10 a.m. with a rather ominous proclamation: “Things are never meant to be easy,” he said.
A juror called to say she had developed a medical condition and wanted to be fired. Leinenweber excused her and replaced her with an alternate. Proceedings were further delayed as two other jurors were stuck on an overdue Metra train.
Leinenweber, who interviewed more than 100 potential jurors on Monday and Tuesday, dismissed nearly half for ’cause’, usually because they indicated they would not be fair or because jury duty would present a significant difficulty .
Many of the panel members said they had heard of Kelly and the charges against him before, but they could keep it fair. Some even said they had seen parts of “Surviving R. Kelly” but had formed no opinion of Kelly himself.
The final panel was selected after prosecutors and attorneys for Kelly and her two co-defendants used their peremptory strikes to further whittle the pool of jurors.
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Things took a turn on Tuesday when Kelly’s lead attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, successfully challenged three of the prosecution’s strikes against black jurors, alleging they were based solely on race.
She said prosecutors were displaying a pattern against black jurors that was “quite troubling”, although Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng said they had reasons to withdraw jurors unrelated to race.
On the other hand, almost all of the defense’s peremptory strikes involving the regular composition of the jury were against a white person – 12 in all. The defense also decided to hit an Asian woman and a black woman. Prosecutors, however, raised no challenges based on this racial breakdown.
Kelly, 55, was charged with child pornography and obstruction of justice in a 2019 indictment alleging he conspired with others to rig his trial in Cook County years ago by paying off a teenage girl he sexually assaulted on a now infamous videotape.
Kelly’s former business manager, Derrel McDavid, and another associate, Milton “June” Brown, who the indictment alleges conspired to redeem incriminating sex tapes that had been extracted from Kelly’s collection and hiding years of alleged sexual abuse, are also on trial. of underage girls.