Federal prosecutors told jurors that Grammy-winning R&B superstar R. Kelly had “a hidden side, a dark side,” as his child-pornography and obstruction-of-justice trial in Chicago kicked off in earnest Wednesday.
Kelly defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean then countered that the feds’ case is built on anticipated testimony from witnesses she described as criminals with immunity deals. She even questioned whether the alleged victim from Kelly’s 2008 child-pornography trial will take the stand and testify that she appeared in an infamous video with Kelly.
“For the last 22 years she has adamantly denied that it was her on that video,” Bonjean said.
Also on trial are two former Kelly employees, Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown. During the opening statement for McDavid, defense attorney Vadim Glozman promised that McDavid would testify.
McDavid, along with Kelly, is charged with trying to rig Kelly’s 2008 trial, which ended in his acquittal. Glozman insisted to jurors that McDavid believed that the central videotape in that case was a fraud. He said McDavid worked with esteemed professionals, including the late Chicago criminal defense attorney Edward Genson, to defend Kelly.
“Derrel McDavid did his job with excellence,” Glozman said, adding that “being successful in your efforts is not a crime.”
Opening statements on behalf of Brown are expected after a lunch break. They are playing out on the 25th-floor ceremonial courtroom of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago’s Loop. When Bonjean finished her opening statement, she gave Kelly a pat on the shoulder and whispered in his ear, smiling toward her client.
“The defendant, Robert Kelly, had sex with multiple children,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Julien told the jury when opening statements began. “He made videotapes of himself having sex with children. And these two defendants, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, knew about it.”
The prosecutor went on to lay out the alleged efforts by Kelly, McDavid and Brown to thwart Kelly’s 2008 trial in Cook County, as well as to prevent videos of Kelly having sex with minors from going public.
Julien used pseudonyms to refer to alleged victims — Jane, Tracy, Nia, Brittany and Pinky, and said “they’re going to tell you what happened to them.” The prosecutor also said jurors will see three videos at issue in the case and prosecutors will present evidence of a fourth.
“The videos are difficult to watch,” Julien said. “But it’s important for you all to watch those videos to understand what happened.”
Bonjean used her opening statement to accuse prosecutors of waiting over two decades to bring a case “in a mob-justice climate” built around hashtags, documentaries and social media movements.
She also told jurors the video jurors won’t see “doesn’t exist and it never existed.”
When opening statements are done, government investigators are expected to take the stand as the trial’s first witnesses.
Before opening statements began, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber announced that a juror had called in to say she was having leg problems and couldn’t sit or walk. The judge removed the Black woman from the jury and replaced her with an alternate, a white woman.
Kelly, convicted last year of trafficking minors for sex and racketeering in a federal court in New York, now stands accused of sexual abuse of underage girls and conspiring to fix his 2008 trial in Cook County.
The same alleged victim from that 2008 trial is among five women who might take the stand to testify against Kelly. That woman, identified in prosecutors’ filings as Minor 1, refused to testify against Kelly in 2008, but she and her mother are expected to take the stand this time around.
The allegations against Kelly date back to the 1990s, when the multiplatinum-selling artist’s musical career was at its peak.
McDavid is charged along with Kelly in an obstruction-of-justice conspiracy and Brown is charged along with McDavid and Kelly in a child pornography conspiracy.
The crowds of supporters that attended Kelly’s 2008 trial in Chicago have been absent during the two days of jury selection this week. Security in the courtroom has been tight even for the federal building, and COVID restrictions will make for limited seating in the courtroom and an overflow room with a live video feed.
In his New York case, the 55-year-old Kelly was found guilty on all counts, and in June was sentenced to 30 years in prison.