CHICAGO — The federal child pornography trial of R. Kelly began in earnest Wednesday as prosecutors and defense attorneys delivered opening statements to the jury, detailing what each camp hopes to prove over the course of the month-long trial.
“The defendant, R. Kelly, had sex with multiple children,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Julien said in the prosecution’s 45-minute-long opening statement.
Julien told jurors that prosecutors will show jurors clips from three different videos that allegedly show Kelly engaging in sex acts with an underage girl — identified as “Jane.”
“The videos are difficult to watch, but it’s important for you all to what these videos to understand what happened,” Julien added.
Kelly’s 2008 acquittal on child pornography charges in Cook County court — and the video tape at the center of that case — will be a focal point for the prosecution. It’s now alleged that Kelly and his former business manager, Derrel McDavid, pressured the alleged victim in that case to give false statements to a grand jury that was investigating Kelly.
The alleged victim in Kelly’s previous Cook County case — who’s identified as “Jane” or “Minor 1” in the current case — did not testify at 2008 trial, though prosecutors have said she will take the stand at some point in the coming weeks.
Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly’s defense attorney, stressed to jurors Wednesday that the Grammy-winner was found not guilty in that case. Bonjean also noted that prosecutors in the current case have offered “Jane” immunity from criminal prosecution.
Bonjean also described Kelly as a victim of “financial exploitation and extortion” and said the prosecution’s case against the singer was driven by public outrage as a result of the 2019 Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly.” During jury selection, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber denied a motion from Kelly’s attorneys that would have disqualified any potential juror who viewed the series.
Earlier this year, Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a federal judge in Brooklyn after he was convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering. A federal grand jury in Chicago indicted Kelly, 55, on 13 counts in July 2019, accusing him of producing and receiving child pornography, while also enticing minors to engage in illegal sexual activity.
The multiplatinum-selling singer — who has remained in law enforcement custody since his 2019 arrest — was initially charged with sexually abusing five minors, though a superseding indictment in 2020 added a sixth alleged victim.
Two of Kelly’s former employees were charged with him in the federal Chicago case: McDavid and Milton “June” Brown. Both are charged with one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, while McDavid also faces two counts of receiving child pornography and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Prosecutors allege Kelly and those in his inner circle paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in an effort to track down video tapes that Kelly made that allegedly show him engaging in sexual activity with underage victims.
Vadim Glozman, an attorney for McDavid, told jurors that McDavid had no reason to believe the prior child pornography allegations against Kelly, and that McDavid worked with others in Kelly’s circle to mount a hearty defense in the 2008 trial.
“The jury in the 2008 case did its job,” Glozman said. “Derrel McDavid did his job. That’s what the evidence will show.”
Kathleen Leon, one of Brown’s attorneys, said her client was merely one of many low-level employees of Kelly who wore a variety of hats but always remembered his rank.
“Every employee knew their pace in a carefully siloed system to keep employees unaware of [Kelly’s] private dealings,” Leon said. “Milton followed the rules. He kept his head down and did all the odd jobs he was asked to do.”
After opening statements, prosecutors called three witnesses: a clinical psychologist, the custodian of records for the Grammy awards, as well as the retired Chicago police detective who handled the initial investigation of the tape that was the center of the 2008 case. The retired detective’s testimony will resume Thursday morning.
The trial is being held in the Dirksen Federal Building’s larger, ceremonial courtroom and is the subject of strict security by the U.S. Marshals. Most of the attendees in the courtroom’s gallery are journalists or supporters of Kelly.
As Kelly was leaving the courtroom Wednesday evening, a woman with “R. Kelly” tattooed on her right bicep blew a kiss to the singer before saying “Goodbye, Robert.”
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