CHICAGO (AP) — A federal jury was appointed Tuesday in R.Kelly’s hometown of Chicago to decide multiple charges against the R&B singer, as prosecutors and defense attorneys argued toward the end of the trial over whether the government was improperly trying to keep some black people off the jury.
Kelly, who is black, is accused of enticing minors to have sex, producing child pornography and rigging his 2008 state child pornography trial in which he was acquitted .
As parties have begun to exercise peremptory challenges — in which they can remove a fixed number of potential jurors from the class — Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, accused prosecutors of seeking to hit black people “for denying Ms. Kelly a jury of his peers.”
Prosecutors noted that several African Americans had served on the jury before the defense objected, and argued that their reasons for wanting to punch some had nothing to do with race. In one case, they said an older man seemed to have trouble staying awake.
Judge Harry Leinenweber partially agreed with the defense, barring prosecutors from removing three black people from the jury and reinstating them. About half of the 12 named jurors were identified as black by the judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys.
Six alternates were also selected.
Some of the selected jurors had watched at least part of a six-part documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” about the sexual abuse allegations against the Grammy-winning singer. Watching it was not an automatic disqualification as long as a potential juror could assure Judge Leinenweber that he could still be impartial.
Among the 12 jurors selected was a retired real estate agent who had a son who was a prosecutor and another son who was a defense attorney. Another juror was a librarian.
Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday morning, after which prosecutors will begin calling witnesses.
In total, the judge dismissed about half of more than 100 potential jurors who were vetted over two days in a large 25th-floor courtroom in downtown Chicago.
Among those fired were a woman who said she had an unfavorable view of police and judges, a woman who said she once took martial arts lessons with Kelly’s children, and a man who said he didn’t think the IRS should exist.
Leinenweber tended to dismiss prospective jurors when they expressed the slightest reservation. He fired a juror who said large gatherings made him anxious, and an American postwoman who worried the mail would be delayed if she wasn’t there.
Kelly, dressed in a gray suit and wearing a surgical mask over her mouth and nose, watched the proceedings from a defense table, appearing at times to study potential jurors on Tuesday as they answered the judge’s questions.
During a break over lunch, several Kelly supporters on the court’s spectator benches made heart signs with their hands and waved at Kelly. He seemed to notice across the courtroom, smiling and nodding.
One of the main focuses of the trial will be whether Kelly threatened and paid off a girl he allegedly filmed himself having sex with when he was around 30 and no older. 14 years old. This is the allegation that underlies 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 had not testified. The woman, now in her 30s and referred to in court documents only as “Minor 1”, will be the government’s star witness in the federal trial which is expected to last four weeks.
When she testifies, prosecutors explained in court Monday that they will not use her real name or call her Minor 1. Instead, they will call her by a single alias, “Jane.” Kelly’s attorneys have suggested they could challenge the fact that some of his accusers were minors at the time Kelly is charged if they videotaped or lured them,
Kelly, who came out of poverty on the south side of Chicago to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, he will be around 80 before qualifying for early release based on his New York sentence, which he is appealing. A conviction on a single count of producing child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Kelly faces four counts of incitement to sex with minors – one for each of the other four accusers. They too are expected to testify.
Two of Kelly’s associates, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, are co-accused at the Chicago trial. McDavid is accused of helping Kelly fix the 2008 lawsuit, while Brown is accused of receiving child pornography. Like Kelly, they also denied wrongdoing.
Minor 1 should testify that she was on video having sex with Kelly. The recording was central to the month-long trial in 2008 and was played for jurors almost every day.
Minor 1 first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in college, according to government filings ahead of trial. The government maintains that she had followed Kelly’s recording studio to Chicago with her aunt, a professional singer working with Kelly. Shortly after, Minor 1 told his parents that Kelly was going to be his godfather.
Prosecutors say Kelly then threatened and sought to pay Minor 1 and her parents not to testify in 2008. Neither of them did.
Follow AP Legal Affairs Editor Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm