A jury of eight women and four men has been chosen to hear the federal criminal case against R&B superstar R. Kelly in Chicago, and opening statements are set to begin Wednesday.
Half of the jury is Black and half is white, based on observations in the courtroom. Six alternates have also been chosen —five women and one man. Four alternates are white and two are Black.
Federal prosecutors had initially sought to strike three of the Black jurors who were eventually seated. They were restored to the panel based on successful challenges by defense attorneys, who alleged prosecutors had improperly excluded them based on race.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber questioned more than 100 potential jurors and excused more than half of them before hearing challenges from lawyers late Tuesday afternoon.
Leinenweber had at one point hoped to seat the jury in time to begin opening statements Tuesday. But by mid-afternoon, he conceded openings would likely need to be put off for another day.
The prospect already seemed tenuous when the second potential juror of the day to be questioned, a Black woman who appeared to be in her 50s, collapsed after having what Leinenweber called a “spell.” The woman was conscious and talking with courtroom staff before leaving the courtroom. Leinenweber dismissed her from the jury.
Kelly’s lawyers complained Tuesday that potential jurors had heard information about the case Monday that would be inadmissible during the trial. It happened when the judge asked them what they knew about Kelly’s legal troubles or the “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries.
Several potential jurors said they were aware Kelly had already been convicted on federal charges in New York last year. On Tuesday, Leinenweber asked those questions in a sidebar with only the potential juror and lawyers able to hear.
The 55-year-old Kelly was sentenced in June to 30 years in prison by the judge in his federal trial in New York.
Lawyers for Kelly’s co-defendant and former manager Derrel McDavid filed a motion to dismiss the case based on prosecutors’ “pre-indictment delay” in charging the case. Citing FBI reports from 2005 and 2018, McDavid’s lawyers said prosecutors had multiple opportunities to bring charges but opted not to do so until 2019. One of the videos central to the current federal case against Kelly also was key evidence in Kelly’s 2008 trial for child pornography in Cook County, but other evidence has been lost, they claim.
McDavid is charged in connection with Kelly’s alleged attempt to buy off witnesses and get rid of incriminating sex tapes ahead of his 2008 trial — which ended with Kelly’s acquittal. The judge deferred ruling on McDavid’s motion, noting it had likely been filed too late itself.
McDavid is also charged with former Kelly employee Milton “June” Brown and Kelly in an alleged child pornography conspiracy.
Each potential juror has been asked whether they have seen any part of the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary series, which aired in 2019 and stirred outrage over allegations Kelly sexually assaulted minors dating back to the early days of his stardom in the 1990s. So far, at least 11 of the more than 90 jurors questioned by the judge said they had seen some part of the series.
In a ruling Monday, Leinenweber denied a motion by Kelly’s lawyers to dismiss any potential juror who had seen the documentary, which features multiple interviews with women who are expected to testify against Kelly. On jury questionnaires, about 70 would-be jurors said they had not seen the series.
The trial involves five alleged victims, four videos, 13 counts and 24 years of alleged illicit conduct with minors dating back to 1996, when Kelly’s hit single “I Believe I Can Fly” was dominating the charts.