CHICAGO, IL — Sometimes justice never comes, sometimes it takes more than 20 years. For several women whom R. Kelly sexually assaulted when they were underage, their decades-long fight ends in some vindication. R. Kelly was found guilty on six of the 13 counts — including creating child pornography and enticing minors into illegal sexual activity — on Wednesday at his federal child pornography trial at Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago. The disgraced singer was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking at his Brooklyn federal trial last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Chicago sentencing date has not yet been set.
Kelly was indicted and charged with one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, two counts of receiving child pornography, four counts of producing child pornography, five counts of enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The counts vary with mandatory minimums from five years to maximums of up to 20 years each.
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Kelly’s former business manager Derrel McDavid and former employee Milton “June” Brown, who were tried alongside Kelly, were found not guilty on charges they covered up years of Kelly’s sexual abuse of minors, which prosecutors alleged included buying incriminating tapes taken from Kelly’s collection. McDavid was found not guilty on all four charges: One count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, two counts of receiving child pornography, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Brown was found not guilty on one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography.
Following the judge’s reading of McDavid’s exoneration on all counts, McDavid’s team yelped out their approval. McDavid gave a big hug to his son and his attorneys Vadim Glozman and Beau Brindley. McDavid also gave Kelly a huge hug. Following Brown’s exoneration, Kelly went to hug Brown as well, but a marshal appeared to stop it midway through.
Kelly’s lead attorney Jennifer Bonjean acknowledged that the verdict was mixed for her client, but that they won more counts than they lost. Though they are not “celebrating a win entirely,” she said they were “happy that the jury really did look at each count.”
When asked for her client’s reaction to the verdict, Bonjean said, “Mr. Kelly is used to bad news,” calling his 30-year sentence from the New York trial “egregious” and adding, “he has many fights to fight. But what he did say is that he had a sense of relief that this particular case was in the past now.”
“What this verdict proves is that 12 people acknowledged that what was always true,” Brindley told reporters. “The work done by Derrel McDavid and Robert Kelly’s [late] lawyers Edward Genson and Gerry Margolis was great work. They did a great job. They did the right thing and this jury has exonerated Derrel McDavid and exonerated those men right along with him.”
The case was about justice for the girls who were minors, now women, as the prosecution drove home over the nearly five full weeks the trial lasted. Four women testified they were underage when Kelly sexually assaulted them and a fifth said she was involved in a threesome with Kelly and the prosecution’s star witness known as “Jane.” The case highlighted four videotapes depicting Kelly performing sexual acts with Jane when she was 14, with clips from three of the videos shown to jurors at the end of the trial’s first week. (The tape known as Video 4, which allegedly contains footage of the threesome, was not shown to jurors.) While the defense questioned Video 4’s existence, prosecutors said the footage was part of the cover-up by Kelly and his team.
In some ways, the trial was a do-over of Kelly’s 2008 state child pornography trial, which ended with Kelly’s acquittal. Per the indictment, the conspiracy to obstruct justice charges related to Kelly and others who were accused of effectively rigging the 2008 trial. “Jane” was also central to the 2008 trial, but refused to testify. Jurors in that trial would say after that her refusal to testify was a major factor in Kelly’s acquittal.
Now, more than 20 years later, Jane had her say in court as the first accuser brought to the witness stand. Jane confirmed — in powerful and emotional testimony — that she was the girl on the graphic videotapes, painstakingly detailing how Kelly would direct her to talk about her underage body and how he urinated on her as he videotaped her. Describing one scene where Jane was handed money by Kelly and asked why that happened, Jane broke down in tears. “Because if anyone saw the tape… he wanted it to appear like I was a prostitute.”
Police first investigated allegations about Kelly coercing sex with minor Jane in 2000. “I was afraid,” she said of her decision to not testify in 2008. Jane testified in this trial that she eventually developed feelings for the singer. “I wanted to protect him,” she said. In 2002, when investigators were looking to interview Jane about the tape that then-Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis had anonymously received, Jane said Kelly sent her and her family to Mexico and the Bahamas. Jane also said Kelly coached her to deny their involvement during her 2002 testimony during a grand jury.
Her testimony was corroborated by several witnesses at the trial, but her own testimony along with the viewing of the tapes by the jurors — and a brutal listen for those inside the courtroom who were not allowed to watch but heard them — resonated. As the jury viewed the video clips behind screens, those in the courtroom heard a youthful-sounding Jane referring to her “14-year-old” body, including her breasts and genitalia, during several points while some 17 clips from three separate videotapes were presented in court. Kelly could be heard affirming her age in some of the clips. In the audio, Jane is also heard saying “I’m sorry” to her sexual abuser several times as the tapes played in the courtroom.
Two more Kelly accusers, a woman who testified under the pseudonym “Pauline” and another as “Tracy,” shared their stories of being coerced by Kelly into sex while they were underage. The two women, who testified on the same day, may have had different demeanors on the witness stand — Pauline was defiant, Tracy more timid — but both had similar stories to share, including testifying that their love for Kelly initially kept them from detailing events to authorities.
Pauline was 14 when she met Kelly via her “best friend” Jane. She said Kelly encouraged her to kiss Jane and they engaged in touching and oral sex the first time she had a sexual encounter with Kelly. The threesomes, Pauline said, also involved another underaged accuser “Brittany,” who had been expected to testify, but did not. Pauline said they were given alcohol by Kelly and by the time she was 15, their sexual encounters included intercourse.
Tracy said she met Kelly when she was 16 while interning for a record label. At his recording studio, she said Kelly kissed her, exposed and pleasured himself and ejaculated. She said a week later he “forced himself” on her in a hotel room. There were other encounters she detailed, including a threesome she was coerced into by Kelly with him and Jane, which he filmed. “I was crying and he told me to stop being a baby,” she said through tears while on the stand. Tracy filed a civil suit against Kelly, which was settled out of court for $250,000, though Tracy said she did not receive the full settlement.
The final survivor to testify against Kelly during the Chicago federal trial was “Nia.” She said she met the singer when she was 15 in Atlanta in 1996. After arranging for her to fly to Minneapolis for his concert, Kelly showed up at her hotel room the next day. He kissed and hugged her, and after his initial greeting, he told her to undress, walk around and then sit next to him. She followed his directions and then he fondled her breasts, masturbated, and quickly made an exit.
During the interaction, she testified that he asked her if she was a virgin, which she was at the time. In a subsequent encounter, Nia testified that he fondled her breasts, put his hand down her pants and touched her vagina. In 2002, she filed a lawsuit against him over the underage sexual assault, which resulted in a settlement that included a $500,000 payout.
While each survivor’s testimony was compelling on its own, there were inconsistencies that the defendants’ lawyers astutely pointed out during cross examinations, including discrepancies in ages and the dates of when events happened. Still, the victims’ accounts were also corroborated by other witnesses called on by the government. Some of those witnesses came with their own set of questionable motives and fuzzy timelines, many of whom the defense tried to paint as liars and extortionists.
As the days wore on past the month the trial was predicted to last, the lines to get into the courtroom grew longer and formed earlier. At one point a Kelly fan took to playing “I Believe I Can Fly” on her cell phone while waiting for court to commence, before a marshal told her to turn it off. The disgraced singer attracted a colorful cast of supporters — which included R. Kelly vloggers (two of whom got in a scuffle with one arrested outside Dirksen, per Chicago Tribune), people wearing their Sunday best, and fans who said they have been by his side through his recent trial in New York and his 2008 trial in Chicago. Dozens of Kelly supporters showed up throughout the trial hailing from different areas of the country, praying, interjecting “Amens” during the proceedings, and blowing kisses towards their fallen star inside the courtroom. Supporters were repeatedly warned to have decorum during the proceedings, some were thrown out of court, yet many returned each day.
Kelly supporters also became fans of Kelly’s legal team led by Jennifer Bonjean, who implored the jury during her closing argument that they view her infamous client as a “John Doe” like his accusers used pseudonyms to level the playing field. Still, she filed several impassioned motions for mistrial, which U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber denied, and went on to attack on any witness testimony inconsistencies, some of which came across effectively in court.
McDavid and his legal team exuded confidence throughout much of the trial, casually joking with the judge and laughing amongst themselves. Brindley’s preacher-like booming deliveries proved effective when challenging some inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimony. Brown’s single count of conspiracy to receive child pornography did not seem to be much of a focus, and appeared as almost an afterthought during the course of the trial — his name rarely came up in court, as Leinenweber joked when Brown’s lead attorney Mary Judge said she would need an hour for her closing argument.
On Wednesday, following the trial’s close, John R. Lausch Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, spoke to reporters and said prosecutors were pleased that Kelly “is finally, finally being held responsible for the abuse of his 14-year-old goddaughter [Jane].” He also expressed gratitude to the other victims that testified during the trial. “I want to thank the survivors because they are survivors, people who survived Robert Kelly and his years of abuse,” he said. “Their courage to come into this courtroom and to stand for the jury and to reveal unspeakable things that that man did to them and then videotaped them — it’s remarkable.
“Their courage in coming forward, their perseverance, and their resolve to be here years later to tell their story is truly remarkable and these guilty verdicts vindicates them.”
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