R. Kelly’s federal trial on allegations that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial and enticed girls for sex is about the R&B singer’s “dark” and “hidden” side, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday, while Kelly’s attorney said not to accept the 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,” Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly’s lead attorney, said as the lawyers gave opening statement’s in Kelly’s trial in federal court in Chicago.
Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, is charged with enticing of minors for sex, producing child pornography and rigging his 2008 pornography trial at which he was acquitted.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Jason Julien said much of the world knew Kelly by his hit song “I Believe I Can Fly,” but that was “Kelly’s public side.”
“Kelly had another side … a hidden side, a dark side,” he said. He went on to add, “This trial is about Kelly’s hidden side.”
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.”
But Bonjean warned jurors not to succumb to what she called “a mob justice climate” surrounding Kelly, alluding to a six-part documentary called “Surviving R. Kelly” and years of harsh social media accounts of him.
“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.
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 as a witness. The evidentiary stage of the federal trial is expected to last about a month.
The jury was impanelled 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 the 12 jurors impanelled were identified as Black by the judge, prosecutor and defence attorneys.
Some of the jurors selected had watched at least part of “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.
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 her by a single pseudonym, “Jane,” in court.
For other accusers also are expected to testify. Kelly faces four counts of enticement of minors for sex related to those accusers.
Kelly, 55, already has already been 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 other young fans. Kelly will be around 80 before qualifying for early release based on his sentence imposed in New York, which he is appealing.
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.
Minor 1 is expected to testify that she was on video having sex with Kelly. The recording was at the heart of the monthlong 2008 trial and was played for jurors almost every day. 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.