Artist News Legal Top Stories

Jury selection underway in second R Kelly trial

By | Published on Tuesday 16 August 2022

R Kelly

The judge overseeing the latest R Kelly criminal proceedings yesterday announced his decisions in relation to a number of pre-trial motions as jury selection got underway in a Chicago court. Perhaps most noteworthy, judge Harry Leinenweber denied a request by the defence that no one who saw the ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary should be allowed to sit on the jury.

It was following the broadcast of ‘Surviving R Kelly’, of course, that a flurry of charges were made against the musician in multiple US states in relation to the allegations of sexual abuse that had followed him around for decades.

This time last year Kelly was in court in New York where he was ultimately found guilty of running a criminal enterprisein order to access and abuse women and teenagers. That conviction resulted in a 30 year jail term, which – appeals pending – could mean that 55 year old Kelly spends the rest of his life in prison.

That possibly makes this second trial in Kelly’s home town of Chicago seem less significant. Although the charges are different in this case, as is Kelly’s defence team.

A rejig of his legal reps relatively late in the day ahead of the New York trial last year resulted in Kelly’s defence in court seeming pretty weak. His new defence lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, is expected to deliver a much more forthright defence this time round. She is still facing an uphill struggle given the evidence against her client, but it could result in different arguments being presented in court.

It was Bonjean who was pushing to ensure that no one who has seen the ‘Surviving R Kelly’ programme sits on the jury in this trial. According to the Chicago Tribune, she wrote in a submission to the court: “This is an issue of potential jurors possessing a mountain of information about the specific allegations in this case and the witnesses’ stories that will play centre stage at this trial and may or may not be admissible”.

“Allowing an individual to sit on this jury who has seen ‘Surviving R Kelly’ is no different than allowing a juror to sit on the jury who was permitted to preview the discovery in this case”, she added.

Bonjean also noted that some potential jurors had themselves stated on a form filled out as part of the jury selection process that they had seen the documentary and therefore did not feel they could give Kelly a fair hearing in court. However, others who admitted to seeing the programme on their form nevertheless reckoned they could be an impartial juror. But such a claim, Bonjean argued, is “absurd”.

Nevertheless, judge Leinenweber concluded that a blanket ban that said anyone who saw ‘Surviving R Kelly’ could not serve on the jury in this case was not appropriate, confident that the impact of watching the programme on any one person’s impartiality could be suitably assessed during the jury selection process.

Elsewhere, Leinenweber granted a request from the prosecution to exclude a testimony planned by the defence in which a doctor would talk about Kelly’s low IQ. That wasn’t relevant to the case, the prosecution reckoned, and Leinenweber concurred. Though the defence subsequently said they’d decided against calling that doctor to the witness stand anyway.

There are co-defendants in the Chicago case, with Kelly’s former business manager Derrel McDavid and another former associate Milton ‘June’ Brown accused of deliberately covering up the musician’s crimes, by paying off victims and buying back video tapes that had leaked and which featured footage of their employer abusing teenage girls.

McDavid’s lawyers are also expected to mount a strong defence in court, although not necessarily in a way that will favour Kelly’s case. Those lawyers also had some pre-trial requests that were denied by Leinenweber, including a request to see more records regarding past communications between a former prosecutor on the case and the Chicago-based journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has long covered the allegations against Kelly.

With the pre-trial motions dealt with and jury selection underway, we await with interest the various opening arguments in this case, which should set out how much will be a repeat of last year’s trial, and how much will cover new ground. Once properly up and running, the trial is expected to last about four weeks.