Jury selection in R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago began Monday, with the judge questioning more than 60 potential jurors about what they know about the indicted R&B star and the charges against him.
By the end of the day, a total of 34 jurors had gotten past the first round of questioning — about six less than where the judge said he wanted to be before moving on to the next stage.
Shortly before the court began, Kelly, dressed in a gray suit and brown shirt, was taken to the grand ceremonial courtroom of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse and seated at a crowded defense table, sometimes leaning forward to whisper face-to-face lawyers.
The identities of potential jurors are hidden from the public during the proceedings, and very little was revealed about them, as U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber asked each person to clarify the answers they gave to a written questionnaire.
Of the 63 people interviewed individually by the judge for nearly six hours, a total of 29 were fired, most of whom said they would struggle to be impartial to Kelly or his co-defendants.
Some judges, faced with a prospective juror who is questionable about their neutrality, will try to “rehabilitate” them by reminding them of their civic duty to be honest and asking emphatically whether they can honor that obligation. But Leinenweber fired anyone who had the slightest doubts about their impartiality on Monday.
“When I think back to the case and the charges over the weekend, I no longer believe I can be open-minded,” a woman said at the start of the interrogation. Leinenweber promptly apologized to her.
Another woman said she went to Tae Kwon Do classes with Kelly’s kids years ago, and the experience could keep her from being open-minded.
Another woman said her job involves advocating for children.
“I would do my best to be honest and impartial. My only concern would be that the defensive side might kick in,” she said before Leinenweber apologized.
Many of the interrogations revolved around the “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries, which many potential jurors said they had seen or at least heard of.
One woman said she saw everything, but it wouldn’t affect her ability to be honest – provoking an audible chuckle from a few Kelly supporters who watched from the courtroom gallery.
Another aspiring judge said he saw part of an episode with his wife, but didn’t remember anything meaningful about it.
“I think I fell asleep even before the end of it,” he said.
Leinenweber has said he wanted to have a pool of at least 40 before moving on to the next stage, in which prosecutors and defense lawyers alike will use their coercive strikes to further wipe out the panel.
Opening statements in the case could begin as early as Tuesday.
Before the jury selection began at around 10:45 a.m., Leinenweber took over a slew of preliminary rulings and ruled in favor of prosecutors on several high-profile requests.
The judge rejected Kelly co-defendant Derrel McDavid’s request for more information about a former Kelly prosecutor’s communications with a key witness and Jim DeRogatis. He also rejected McDavid’s arguments that prosecutors messed up the custody chain on a key video, saying a witness is expected to vouch for its authenticity under oath.
He also granted the prosecutors’ request to exclude a doctor’s testimony about Kelly’s low IQ; Kelly’s lawyers then said for the record that they had decided not to call the doctor during the trial after all.
Leinenweber also turned down a defense request to dismiss jurors who had seen some of Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries. Kelly’s lawyers had argued that anyone who had seen any part of the series could not be honest.
However, Leinenweber said a general rejection from anyone who has seen any part of the show would not be appropriate.
Apparently, Leinenweber had made a decision at a hearing last week about many of the requests that never made it to the public. Leinenweber’s statements were also not made public until he read them from the bank Monday morning.
In a motion filed Sunday, Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, wrote that the potential pitfalls in the series, which chronicle years-long allegations of sexual misconduct against the Chicago-born R&B singer, go far beyond the usual concerns about jurors being killed. be exposed to negative publicity prior to the trial. .
“This is a matter of potential jurors having a mountain of information about the specific charges in this case and the witness accounts that will be central to this trial and whether admissible or not,” Bonjean wrote. “Having a person on this jury who has seen ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ is no different than having a juror on the jury who got a taste of the discovery in this case.”
A pool of about 100 potential jurors came to the Dirksen US Courthouse last week to fill out questionnaires, including their thoughts on the high-profile defendant, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in June on federal racketeering charges filed in New York.
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, McDavid, and another employee, Milton “June” Brown, who, according to the indictment, planned to buy back incriminating sex tapes taken from Kelly’s collection and alleged years of sexual abuse of underage girls.
Though Kelly is already faced with what could be the rest of his life behind bars, the trial set to unfold in Chicago seems ripe for intrigue.
For example, Kelly’s attorney, Bonjean, is a veteran trial attorney who enjoys taking on what she portrays as an uncontrolled and overzealous government, representing controversial clients such as actor Bill Cosby and Gangster Disciples boss Larry Hoover. Brown’s attorney, Mary Judge, is also a respected 25-year veteran of the Chicago Federal Attorney’s Office.
McDavid, meanwhile, is represented by Chicago attorneys Beau Brindley and Vadim Glozman, who have revealed in a flurry of preliminary investigations that they intend to fight the charges aggressively, even if it means throwing Kelly under the bus.
And in an added twist, Brindley himself was cleared of criminal charges seven years ago by Leinenweber for alleging he coached clients to lie on the witness stand — a case the Tribune first reported when the FBI opened Brindley’s office in the famous Monadnock building across the street. the street from the Chicago Federal Courthouse.
The attorney representing Brindley in that case, the late Edward Genson, was Kelly’s lead attorney in his 2008 child pornography trial.
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Leinenweber, 85, is one of the leading statesmen of Chicago’s federal bank, with a reputation for honesty, a keen knowledge of the law and a fairly low tolerance for nonsense.
Regardless, the evidence wavers, Kelly’s trial is the most high-profile event at the typically buttoned-up Dirksen US Courthouse in the 2 ½ years since the start of the pandemic.
Kelly’s die-hard followers — some who post live tweets on his case and videos on social media that rack up millions of views — are expected to show up en masse to support him, just as they did at his first trial in Cook County and his Brooklyn. process.
DeRogotis has been subpoenaed as a possible defense witness.