The jury that will decide R. Kelly’s fate in Chicago federal court was selected Tuesday after more than 12 hours of interrogation over two days, focusing on possible biases over the massive media coverage of the case.
Opening statements in the hot-button lawsuit are scheduled for Wednesday morning at the Dirksen US Courthouse.
The jury of 12 full members and six deputies was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, who questioned more than 100 potential jurors Monday and Tuesday, nearly half of whom he fired for “reason”.
The composition of the regular jury is: four white women, four black women, two white men and two black men. They include a former lawyer who is now a stay-at-home mom and a librarian who said she knew about the case from the headlines she put on the shelf.
Another female juror, a retiree whose two children are lawyers, said during the interrogation that she had never seen the high-profile docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” but that her brother had told her, “If I watched it, I would likely to be kicked off,” said the jury.
Many of the panelists said they had heard of Kelly and the allegations against him before, but they could be honest. Some even said they’d seen parts of “Surviving R. Kelly” but hadn’t formed an opinion about Kelly herself.
One of the black women selected for the jury said she believes she’s seen all 12 episodes of the series, but insisted it wouldn’t affect her ability to be honest — a comment that sparked an audible chuckle from one. couple of Kelly supporters watching from the courtroom gallery on Monday.
The final panel was selected after prosecutors and attorneys for Kelly and his two co-defendants used their coercive strikes to further narrow the jury pool.
Things got tough when Kelly’s lead attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, successfully challenged three of the prosecution’s black jurors’ strikes, claiming they were based solely on race.
She said prosecutors showed a pattern against black jurors that was “pretty troubling,” though US Attorney General Jeannice Appeneng said they had reasons to remove the jurors that had nothing to do with race.
On the other hand, nearly every compelling defense attack involving the regular jury composition has been from a white — 12 in all. The defense also moved to punch an Asian woman and a black woman. Prosecutors, however, have not raised any challenges based on that racial division.
The panel members were sworn in just before 6 p.m
“It’s been a long day,” Leinenweber said from the bench after the judges apologized for the night. “Have a nice evening. I’ll be eating a martini soon.”
Kelly, 55, was charged with child pornography and obstruction of justice in a 2019 indictment alleging he conspired with others years ago to manipulate his Cook County trial by paying a teenage girl he sexually assaulted at a now infamous video tape.
Kelly’s former business manager, Derrel McDavid, and another employee, Milton “June” Brown, who, according to the indictment, had a plan to buy back incriminating sex tapes taken from Kelly’s collection and hide years of alleged sexual abuse of underage girls.
The process is expected to take approximately four weeks.
A total of 41 potential jurors were questioned on Tuesday. Among those excused was a woman who became dizzy just as Leinenweber asked her how long she had lived at her current address. Emergency services were called to the building and the woman was released from jury duty.
During the selection process, Leinenweber’s questions for each potential juror focused on what they may have seen or heard in the news about Kelly, and whether they watched the Lifetime docuseries detailing many of the sexual misconduct allegations that make up the indictment. , were described.
Sitting at the defense table, Kelly took an active part in the selection process, putting on headphones to listen to sidebar conversations and often whispering to his lawyers.
The singer also visibly reacted to the responses of many potential judges, including a woman, a retired teacher, who made him laugh out loud when she proudly said she completed the questionnaire “all alone.”
McDavid’s attorneys, meanwhile, filed a motion late Monday arguing that the charges should be thrown out altogether, as prosecutors have waited an “unforgivable and unnecessary” amount of time to file the charges.
In the decades since the alleged behavior took place, key witnesses who could aid McDavid’s case have died, according to the filing. And key evidence related to Kelly’s 2008 Cook County Circuit Court trial was quashed after the default seven years expired, McDavid’s attorneys claim.
Federal authorities have known about the central videotape and at least one agreement to try to repossess another incriminating tape for years, the filing claims.
“(Prosecutors) did nothing while fully aware (of) the allegations and evidence for decades. As a result, they lost substantial evidence over time,” the filing said.
Leinenweber said on Tuesday that he would postpone the decision on the request.
The identities of potential jurors are shielded from the public during jury selection and very little was revealed about them as Leinenweber asked each person to clarify the answers they gave to a written questionnaire.
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The majority of those dismissed by the judge “for a reason” said they would struggle to be honest with Kelly because of what they already knew about the case. Others have argued that medical problems or other hardships would make it difficult to serve for such a long period of time.
Some judges, faced with a prospective juror who is questionable about their neutrality, will try to “rehabilitate” them – reminding them of their civic duty to be fair and emphatically asking if they can live up to that obligation. But Leinenweber fired anyone who had the slightest doubts about their impartiality.
The trial is Kelly’s first criminal case to come before a jury in his hometown since his stunning acquittal in the Cook County case 14 years ago.
Kelly faces a total of 13 charges, including production of child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Some counts have a mandatory minimum of 10 years behind bars if convicted, while others have a prison sentence of 5 to 20 years. Prosecutors also demand a $1.5 million personal forfeiture from Kelly.
Regardless of the outcome, Kelly still faces decades in prison. In June, he was sentenced to 30 years on charges of federal racketeering in New York. In that case, he will appeal against both the jury’s verdict and the sentence.