CHICAGO (AP) — Jury selection in the federal trial of R. Kelly on charges that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial began Monday, with the judge and attorneys quickly focusing on whether prospective jurors have watched a 2019 documentary about sexual assault allegations against an R&B singer.
After denying a request by Kelly’s attorney to automatically exclude any juror who had watched the six-part documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber questioned potential jurors about how much they had watched, what they can remember about him and whether they could be impartial if elected.
Jurors were asked whether they had seen the documentary in a questionnaire they had already completed. In one case, a woman who left her answer blank admitted to watching several episodes. However, she was not immediately excused from the service.
Overall, the judge dismissed at least half of the 60 or so prospective jurors he questioned Monday. Among those fired was an elementary school teacher who said it would be difficult for him to be impartial given the subject matter of the trial, a man who said many of his closest friends were Chicago cops, and a woman who said she once took martial arts lessons with Kelly’s kids.
Among those held in the pool of possible jurors was a man with a post-graduate degree in classical music and several people who said they had seen part of the Kelly documentary but who assured the judge they could give the singer a fair trial.
Jury selection is expected to continue on Tuesday.
The trial centers on whether Kelly threatened and paid a girl he allegedly videotaped having sex with when he was in his mid-30s and she was no older than 14. Jurors in the trial for child pornography in 2008 acquitted Kelly, with some later explaining that they had no choice because the girl did not testify. The woman, now 30 and referred to in the documents only as “Juvenile 1,” will be the government’s star witness in the federal trial, which is expected to last four weeks.
Kelly also faces multiple charges of producing and receiving child pornography.
Kelly, 55, has already been sentenced by a federal judge in New York to 30 years in prison for a 2021 sentence on charges he used his fame to sexually abuse other young fans.
Dressed in a light gray suit, yellow shirt, tie and black-rimmed glasses, Kelly quickly waved to potential jurors as his attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, introduced him. Kelly also wore a surgical mask as part of the COVID-19 protocols for anyone entering the court.
Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, faces multiple charges in the federal trial. They include four counts of luring minors for sex – one each for four other accusers. They are also scheduled to testify.
With the New York sentence alone, Kelly will be about 80 before he’s eligible for parole. The Chicago sentences could add decades to Kelly’s New York sentence, which he is appealing. A conviction on just one count of manufacturing child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Two Kelly associates, Derrell McDavid and Milton Brown, are co-defendants in the Chicago trial. McDavid is accused of helping Kelly arrange the 2008 trial, while Brown is accused of obtaining child pornography. Like Kelly, they also denied wrongdoing.
Two state cases are also pending. One is a multiple sexual assault lawsuit out of Cook County District Court in Chicago. The other is a fundraising lawsuit in Minnesota. No trial dates have been set for either.
Juvenile 1 is expected to testify that she was on the video having sex with Kelly. The tape was the basis of the month-long trial in 2008 and was played for jurors almost every day.
Little 1 first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in junior high school. She had headed to Kelly’s recording studio in Chicago with her aunt, a professional singer who worked with Kelly. Soon after, Minor 1 told her parents that Kelly was going to be her godfather.
Prosecutors say Kelly later threatened and tried to pay off Little 1 and her parents not to testify in 2008. Neither did.
Double jeopardy rules prohibit prosecuting someone for the same crimes for which they were previously acquitted. That doesn’t apply to the federal trial, as prosecutors allege a variety of offenses related to Minor 1, including obstruction of justice.
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