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R Kelly jury selection begins over trial-fixing allegations

R Kelly (Amr Alfiky/AP)
R Kelly (Amr Alfiky/AP)

Jury selection began on Monday at R&B singer R Kelly’s federal trial in his home town of Chicago.

He faces charges that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial by threatening and paying off a girl who he allegedly filmed himself having sex with when he was about 30 and she was no older than 14.

Jurors acquitted Kelly on all charges in that 2008 trial, some saying later that they felt they had no choice because the girl did not give evidence.

The woman, now in her 30s and referred to in filings only as Minor 1, will be the government’s star witness in the forthcoming federal trial.

Kelly, 55, goes into the Chicago federal court already sentenced by a New York federal judge to a 30-year prison term for a 2021 conviction on charges he used his fame to sexually abuse other young fans.

Kelly, wearing a light grey suit and a tie, sat next to his lawyer Jennifer Bonjean as court began.

R Kelly
R Kelly performs in Los Angeles in 2013 (Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP)

Bonjean introduced herself, Kelly and other attorneys representing him. Kelly wore a mask, as did everyone in court due to coronavirus precautions.

Before at least two dozen potential jurors were brought in, the judge said he hoped to select 12 jurors and six alternates on Monday and Tuesday.

Once a jury is chosen, the panel will hear opening statements from prosecutors and the defence before the first witness is called.

Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, faces multiple charges at the federal trial.

They include four counts of enticement of minors for sex – one each for four other accusers. They, too, are expected to give evidence.

Before potential jurors were brought in, Bonjean asked the judge to exclude anyone who watched the documentary Surviving R Kelly, which revisited old allegations against Kelly and spotlighted new ones.

An estimated 12.8 million people watched the six-part series that premiered in January 2019.

The judge denied that motion but said the jurors would be questioned about the program

Convictions in Chicago could add decades to Kelly’s New York sentence, against which he is appealing. With the New York sentence alone, Kelly will be about 80 before qualifying for early release.

Two Kelly associates, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, are co-defendants at the Chicago trial.

McDavid is accused of helping Kelly fix the 2008 trial, while Brown is charged with receiving child pornography. Like Kelly, they have also denied any wrongdoing.

Two state cases are also still pending. One is a multiple count sex-abuse case from Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago. The other is a solicitation case in Minnesota. No trial dates are set for either.

Minor 1 is expected to testify that she was on video having sex with Kelly.

The recording was at the heart of the month-long 2008 trial and was played for jurors almost every day.

Minor 1 first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in junior high school.

She had tagged along to Kelly’s Chicago recording studio with her aunt, a professional singer working with Kelly.

Soon after, Minor 1 told her parents Kelly was going to become her godfather.

Prosecutors say Kelly later threatened and sought to pay off Minor 1 and her parents so they would not testify at the 2008 trial. None of them did.

Double jeopardy rules bar the prosecution of someone for the same crimes of which they were acquitted earlier.

That does not apply to the Chicago federal trial because prosecutors are alleging different crimes related to Minor 1, including obstruction of justice.