Opening statements set for Wednesday give prosecutors and R. Kelly’s attorneys their first chance to address jurors directly about charges that accuse the R&B singer of enticing minors for sex, producing child pornography and rigging his 2008 pornography trial.
The prosecution and Kelly’s legal team told the judge earlier in the week that they would like about an hour to tell jurors about the evidence they can expect to see and hear. The evidentiary stage of the federal trial is scheduled to last about a month.
Lawyers for two Kelly co-defendants will also address jurors before the government calls witnesses later Wednesday. Prosecutors haven’t said who they will call first.
The jury was empanelled Tuesday night, with prosecutors and defence attorneys arguing toward the end of the process about whether the government was improperly attempting to keep some Black people off the jury.
Kelly, who is Black, is accused of enticing minors for sex, producing child pornography and fixing his 2008 state child pornography trial, for which he was acquitted.
As the sides began exercising peremptory challenges — in which they can remove a fixed number of potential jurors from the pool — Kelly’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean accused prosecutors of seeking to strike Black people from the jury “to deny Mr Kelly a jury of his peers.”
Prosecutors noted multiple African American people had already made it onto the jury before the defence objected, and they argued their reasons for wanting to strike some had nothing to do with race. In one case, they said an older man appeared to have difficulty staying awake.
Judge Harry Leinenweber partially agreed with the defence, disallowing prosecutors from striking three Black people from the jury and restoring them. About half the 12 jurors empanelled were identified as Black by the judge, prosecutor and defence attorneys. Six alternates were also selected.
Kelly, 55, has already been sentenced by a New York federal judge to a 30-year prison term for a 2021 conviction on charges that he used his fame to abuse other young fans sexually.
Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, will be around 80 before qualifying for early release based on his sentence imposed in New York, which he is appealing.
Kelly faces four counts of enticement of minors for sex and one for four other accusers. They, too, are expected to testify.
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 also have denied wrongdoing.
Minor 1 is expected to testify that she was on video having sex with Kelly. The recording was at the heart of the monthlong 2008 trial and played for jurors almost daily. Prosecutors say Kelly threatened and sought to pay off Minor 1 and her parents so they wouldn’t testify in 2008. None of them did.