R. Kelly Due In Federal Court Tuesday, Still Unclear How Federal, State Cases Will Proceed
The R&B singer known as R. Kelly is due in federal court in Chicago Tuesday, where he is expected to plead not guilty to charges that he filmed himself sexually abusing minors and then tried to destroy evidence of his crimes.
Kelly was arrested on Thursday based on a 13-count indictment filed by a federal grand jury in Chicago. The charges include child pornography, sexual exploitation of children and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Kelly has been in federal custody since his arrest. On Tuesday, federal Judge Harry Leinenweber is expected to decide whether Kelly will remain locked up while he awaits trial.
In a memorandum prepared for Leinenweber, federal prosecutors argue that Kelly is a flight risk, a “danger to the community” and a threat to justice if he is allowed out of jail.
The federal indictment alleges that Kelly used bribery, physical threats and other coercion to prevent witnesses from testifying honestly during his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County Circuit Court. A jury found Kelly not guilty of the charges.
In their memorandum, federal prosecutors say Kelly made “incredible efforts to obstruct justice,” and there is a risk he will do so again if allowed to post bond.
A separate five-count federal indictment, filed Wednesday in New York’s Eastern District Court, includes charges of racketeering, kidnapping, forced labor and sexual exploitation of a child. New York prosecutors want Kelly to be extradited to face charges there, setting up a rare jurisdictional battle within the U.S Department of Justice.
Last week’s charges represent the first federal cases against Kelly. They come on top of 18 counts still pending in Cook County Circuit Court, where Kelly is accused of sexually assaulting and abusing four women, three of whom were minors at the time of the alleged abuse.
The alleged conduct behind the federal charges “appears to largely be the same” as the allegations in Illinois court, Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg said, adding that Kelly “was aware of the investigations and the charges were not a surprise.”
Greenberg said Kelly looks forward to his day in court, “to the truth coming out and to his vindication” in the case.
Experts were split on how they expect the federal and state cases against Kelly to proceed. Typically, federal court moves much more quickly than than Cook County criminal court, where it took six years for Kelly to go to trial on the child porn charges.
However, Cook County Judge Lawrence Flood said in a recent court hearing that he wants to go to trial on one of the state cases against Kelly by “early next year.”
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, said Cook County prosecutors are still “in the process of reviewing the federal indictments” to determine how their cases are impacted. Simonton said they are “committed to working” with their federal law enforcement partners.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said Kelly’s defense team could have a say in which case goes to trial first by speeding up the process in one court and dragging their feet in another.
But Valparaiso University law professor Andrea Lyon said she expects prosecutors to ultimately decide together their preferred order of cases and to put the other cases on hold in the meantime.
Kelly’s defense team could circumvent those efforts by demanding a speedy trial, however, Lyon said that would put Kelly’s attorneys at a disadvantage by forcing them to rush their preparation.
Greenberg said he has “no clue” which of the pending cases against Kelly will go first, and did not answer if he has a preference, saying only that the cases have “a lot of overlap.”
Mariotti and Lyon both said they were surprised to see Kelly charged in separate federal cases in New York and Chicago, saying disputes over jurisdiction are typically decided within the U.S. Attorney’s Office before charges are filed.
Mariotti said the charges filed in New York are more serious, but he believes the Chicago case will be easier for prosecutors to prove because it is more straightforward.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid. The Associated Press contributed.