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Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Jason Meisner and Megan Crepeau

Jurors ask first questions as they continue deliberating in R. Kelly federal trial

CHICAGO — Jurors returned to the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Wednesday morning to continue deliberations in the trial of R. Kelly, and within the first hour of their discussions they had already sent the judge three specific questions.

The panel was sent back at 1 p.m. Tuesday after closing arguments, and deliberated for less than four hours before being sent home without reaching a verdict.

Kelly, 55, is facing a 13-count indictment charging him with 13 counts of producing and receiving child pornography, enticing minors to engage in criminal sexual activity, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Also charged are former Kelly associates Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, who are accused in an alleged scheme to buy back incriminating sex tapes that had been taken from Kelly’s collection and to hide years of alleged sexual abuse.

Jurors sent U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber three questions before 10 a.m. Wednesday, two of which indicate they are closely scrutinizing the claims regarding prosecution witness identified as “Tracy.”

Tracy, using only her first name, testified she was 16 in 1999 when she started working as a record-label intern and met R. Kelly. They began having sexual contact not long afterward, she said, including a harrowing encounter at a Westin hotel.

However, Tracy filed a lawsuit saying her sexual contact with Kelly actually began a year later, when she was 17 — the age of consent in Illinois.

Prosecutors noted in closing arguments that what matters for the federal charge is that she was under the age of 18. But Kelly’s defense seized on it as evidence of her overall unreliability, and said it shows that one encounter with Kelly at a Westin hotel in fact occurred when she was 18.

Jurors asked to see paperwork related to Tracy’s internship at the record label, and asked if there were Westin hotel records from 1999 and 2000.

While defense attorneys displayed that internship paperwork to jurors, it was not formally admitted into evidence, so they will not be able to see it during deliberations, Leinenweber said. No Westin records from those years were in evidence either.

Jurors’ third question related to nine counts alleging Kelly’s misconduct against underage girls. The indictment alleges he “did knowingly … persuade, induce, entice and coerce” a minor, while jurors’ instructions use “or” instead of “and.”

After some discussion, Leinenweber said case law supports jurors using “or,” not “and” — meaning they can consider whether Kelly did any of those things, not all of them.

This is the third time Kelly has been waiting on a jury to decide his fate. A federal jury in Brooklyn found him guilty of racketeering conspiracy last year after nine hours of deliberating. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison on that conviction.

And a Cook County jury in 2008 acquitted him on child pornography charges after deliberating for about 7 1/2 hours. That trial has played a significant role in Kelly’s current federal case — prosecutors have said he and his associates “scammed” that jury by pressuring the victim, his teenage goddaughter “Jane,” not to cooperate with authorities.

Before deliberations began Tuesday, Kelly’s attorney urged the jury in her closing argument to put aside any preconceived notions they may have about the singer and see “the humanity” in him when deliberating charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice.

Jennifer Bonjean began her final presentation to the jury by asking them to treat Kelly like a “John Doe,” as some of his accusers have been, not what they may have heard about him in the news or at the office.

“We are asking really the impossible of you, right? To put that all aside and decide this case based only on what was put into evidence,” Bonjean said.

Bonjean spent a lot of her nearly two-hour argument talking about Kelly’s relationship with Jane and her family, which continued far beyond her alleged abuse as a minor and was approved by her parents.

Jane’s parents lied to the grand jury about her sexual relationship with the singer because “they didn’t care,” Bonjean said. “She was 17 and they didn’t care. … They condoned it.”

Bonjean also painted many of the women who accused Kelly of sexual misdeeds as liars and opportunists, particularly Lisa Van Allen, who /she/ called an extortionist and a thief.

In her rebuttal argument Tuesday, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng said the evidence was clear that Kelly was a serial sexual predator and that his co-defendants made the decision to help him hide it to keep his career intact and keep lining their own pockets.

“What R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” Appenteng said. “And what the people around him wanted … they wanted to help their boss, including helping him get away with it.”

Attorneys for Brown, meanwhile, have argued that he was just a low-level employee who had no idea what his boss was really up to. And McDavid, during a marathon 14-hour testimony in his own defense, said he genuinely believed Kelly was innocent of wrongdoing.

Prosecutors in their closing arguments said McDavid’s 14-hour testimony on his own behalf was just an “incredible, after-the-fact, concocted story,” particularly his claims that he was just following the direction of Kelly’s criminal defense attorney, Edward Genson, his entertainment lawyer Gerald Margolis, and private detective Jack Palladino — all of whom are deceased.

“Do not let him hide behind the supposed words of three dead men,” Appenteng said. “The time has come. Hold him accountable.”


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