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Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Jason Meisner and Megan Crepeau

R. Kelly convicted on child pornography charges at federal trial in Chicago; acquitted of conspiring to obstruct justice

CHICAGO — In a split verdict after a hotly contested trial, a federal jury in Chicago on Wednesday convicted disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly on child pornography charges for videotaping himself sexually abusing his then-14-year-old goddaughter decades ago.

Kelly was also found guilty on three out of five counts related to enticement of a minor. But in a rare blow for federal prosecutors, the jury acquitted Kelly and two co-defendants on charges they conspired to retrieve incriminating tapes and hide Kelly’s sexual misdeeds.

After about 11 hours of deliberation, the jury found Kelly, 55, guilty of three of the first four counts of the indictment, which charged the singer with the sexual exploitation of “Jane” for the purpose of producing child pornography.

Those charges carry a minimum of 10 years in prison. U.S. Attorney John Lausch told reporters Wednesday that Kelly could face 10 to 90 years in prison for the convictions he received, and prosecutors will request that his sentence be served consecutive to the 30 years he received for racketeering conspiracy in a New York federal case.

“When we have instances where defendants are convicted of committing horrific acts against other individuals, and it’s separate and apart from other horrific acts that he committed against other individuals, we’re asking for that (sentence) to be consecutive,” he said.

Kelly was acquitted, however, of the count alleging he videotaped himself having sexual contact with “Jane” and prosecution witness Lisa Van Allen. While Van Allen and Jane testified that the threesome occurred and was videotaped, jurors did not view footage from that encounter. Prosecutors said that’s because Kelly’s enablers successfully concealed it.

The onetime superstar, dressed in a blue suit and tie and black glasses, stared straight ahead and had no noticeable reaction to the jury’s decision. Despite his conviction on the most serious counts, his attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, pumped a fist and rubbed Kelly’s back as some of the “not guilty” verdicts were read.

Kelly’s co-defendants, Milton “June” Brown and Derrel McDavid, were acquitted on all charges against them.

Kelly and McDavid were acquitted on charges they conspired to obstruct justice in Kelly’s 2002 Cook County case. The two men also were acquitted on charges they received child pornography.

As he was found not guilty on the last of the counts against him, McDavid shot up from his seat in the middle of the courtroom and thrust both fists toward the ceiling. Later, he bear-hugged Kelly and appeared to whisper something in his ear before the singer was led away to the lockup by deputy U.S. marshals.

After court, McDavid’s attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber if their client could get his ankle monitor removed, given his complete exoneration. The judge said he wasn’t even sure of the procedure.

“This doesn’t happen often,” Leinenweber said. “But it should be done immediately.”

As attorneys packed up their things, McDavid said, “I’m buying the drinks tonight!”

In the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse after court, Bonjean told reporters that she believed McDavid and Brown were charged only to try to get them to cooperate with investigators.

“Absolutely. That’s how the government rolls,” Bonjean said. “They don’t even believe in their own evidence, so they need to put pressure on other people to try to get them to flip. That’s exactly what happened. And I’m glad they got it. You know, that that didn’t work out for them.”

Jurors acquitted Kelly and his co-defendants on all counts related to their alleged attempt to cover up incriminating tapes while Kelly was awaiting trial in Cook County. The charges alleged a wide-ranging scheme to retrieve the videotapes and pressure Jane to keep quiet about her sexual contact with the singer.

Prosecutors’ case hinged in part on the word of prosecution witnesses Charles Freeman and Lisa Van Allen, whom defense attorneys repeatedly characterized as liars and extortionists.

And in closing arguments, Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean said Jane’s parents lied about her relationship with the singer not because they were pressured but because “they didn’t care ... They condoned it.”

“Lives are complex, and for all the fist-pounding and the outrage, that family made a decision that they had to live with at that time,” she said.

Defense attorneys for Kelly and McDavid both noted a statute-of-limitations element of the charge of conspiring to obstruct justice: It depended on proving that they acted to further the conspiracy at some point after July 2014. Even if a conspiracy existed, the defense argued, it could not have lasted for long after Kelly’s acquittal in 2008.

In a news conference after court, McDavid’s attorney Beau Brindley said the verdict proved Van Allen and Freeman were liars.

“Witnesses chose to lie, implicate this man and drag him through this experience from 2019 until today,” Brindley said. “Now, it’s over.”

While Kelly was convicted on enticement counts regarding witnesses “Jane,” “Nia” and “Pauline,” he was found not guilty on two others.

Jurors acquitted Kelly of enticement related to “Tracy” – the only witness whose age at the time of her alleged contact with Kelly was significantly challenged. Tracy testified she was 16 in 1999 when she started working as a record-label intern and met Kelly. They began having sexual contact not long afterward, she said, including a harrowing encounter at a Westin hotel.

However, Tracy filed a lawsuit in 2001 saying her sexual contact with Kelly 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 also acquitted Kelly on one count of enticement related to “Brittany,” whom prosecutors said they would call to the stand but never did. Jurors instead were told to rely on two other witnesses’ testimony that Kelly had threesomes with them and Brittany when they were underage.

But defense attorneys seized on the fact that jurors never heard from the woman herself. “Who is Brittany? Where is Brittany?” Bonjean said in closing arguments.

Earlier Wednesday the jury had sent out a series of notes to the judge, including one informing the court it was undecided on two counts against two defendants.

The verdict comes 14 years after Kelly’s infamous acquittal on similar charges in Cook County, which were based on a single video of Kelly allegedly abusing Jane in the hot tub room of his former home on West George Street in the late 1990s.

Prosecutors have said Jane lied to a state grand jury investigating that tape, claiming she wasn’t the girl depicted and that she and Kelly had never had a sexual relationship. Her absence at the 2008 trial was the defining factor in the jury’s finding of not guilty.

Prosecutors in Kelly’s current case have alleged her silence was no accident, but the result of a yearslong criminal conspiracy by Kelly and his co-defendants to keep Jane and other minor victims from cooperating with law enforcement and to buy back and cover up incriminating sex videos Kelly had made.

After maintaining a relationship with Kelly for years afterward, Jane began cooperating three years ago with a federal investigation initiated after the airing of the 2019 Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.”

Kelly was indicted in July 2019 on charges of producing and receiving child pornography, enticing minors for sex and obstruction of justice. Also charged were his former business manager, McDavid, and ex-employee Brown, who were accused of assisting with the cover-up of Kelly’s sexual misconduct.

During the five-week trial, the jury was shown clips from three separate videos allegedly depicting Kelly abusing Jane, including the same tape from his Cook County trial as well as another where he instructed her to refer repeatedly to her “14-year-old” genitalia.

Last month, Jane testified for the first time that not only was it her on the videotapes, but that Kelly had sexually abused her “innumerable” times when she was a minor, at his recording studio, his home, on tour buses and in hotel rooms.

Asked on the witness stand why, after two decades of silence, she finally decided to come forward and speak out, Jane said: “I became exhausted with living with (Kelly’s) lies.”

In her closing argument Tuesday, Bonjean, talked at length about Kelly’s relationship with Jane and her family, which continued far beyond her alleged abuse as a minor and, according to Bonjean, was approved by her parents.

“It is an inconvenient reality for the government,” Bonjean said. “Lives are complex, and for all the fist pounding and the outrage, that family made a decision that they had to live with at that time.”

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 noted that when “Surviving R. Kelly” was coming out, Jane repeatedly reached out to Kelly but he never tried to influence her in any way. “He changed his phone number,” she said. “He goes silent on her. This is the most disinterested person in obstructing that I have ever seen.”

In rebuttal, 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.”

Appenteng also urged the jury to pay special attention to Jane’s testimony and the videotapes of her abuse.

“You saw how (Kelly) was using her body, flipping her over, throwing her around like she was some rag doll,” Appenteng says. “That’s what this case is about.”

The verdict marked the second criminal conviction for Kelly in the past year. In September 2021, a federal jury in Brooklyn found him guilty of racketeering conspiracy and eight other counts alleging the singer used his organization to lure and trap girls, boys and young women to satisfy his sexually predatory desires.

He was sentenced in June to 30 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly.


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