When opening statements kicked off in R. Kelly’s Chicago federal-court trial on August 17, the prosecution quickly turned dark. Prosecutors started by making their main point — that the disgraced R&B superstar preyed on minors — and alleged that he even abused his own goddaughter. “The defendant, Robert Kelly, had sex with multiple children,” the Chicago Tribune quoted prosecutor Jason Julien as saying. “He made videotapes of himself having sex with children.” In this federal trial, Kelly’s second within one year, he faces child-pornography and obstruction-of-justice charges related to five accusers. Unlike Kelly’s Brooklyn case, in which he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, two of his alleged co-conspirators, Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, are on trial right alongside him.
McDavid and Brown allegedly tried to hide Kelly’s crimes and help him beat his 2008 child-pornography trial in Chicago, which concluded with the singer’s shocking acquittal. Some of the purported cover-up efforts included coordinating payouts to accusers as well as a would-be whistleblower. Julien reportedly argued that McDavid and Brown were well aware of Kelly’s crimes. Kelly, the Tribune quoted Julien as saying, “had another side, a hidden side, a dark side, that he — with the help of McDavid and Brown — did not allow the world to see.”
The prosecution provided harrowing details about Kelly’s alleged abuse of minors. Julien claimed that Kelly sexually abused Kelly’s own goddaughter, “Jane.” The Tribune reported that the jury would see portions of videotapes showing this abuse and that Kelly described Jane as having a “14-year-old” figure in these recordings. (A note on the use of alleged and allegedly in the context of this trial: Kelly was convicted in his New York case of one set of crimes; since he pleaded not guilty to the Chicago charges and is presumed innocent — and hasn’t been found guilty there — prosecutors’ statements are still allegations.) Julien referred to the accusers in this case with pseudonyms, Jane, Tracy, Nia, Brittany and Pinky, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “They’re going to tell you what happened to them,” Julien reportedly said of the recordings. “The videos are difficult to watch … but it’s important for you all to watch those videos to understand what happened.” Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, told jurors to weigh whether he was a victim “of financial exploitation, extortion.” Bonjean reportedly argued: “There are strong motivators out there,” she told the jury. “The government’s case really does hinge on the testimony of liars, extortionists, people who engaged in the business of trafficking pornography.” McDavid’s lawyer, Vadim Glozman, said that his client acted in keeping with Kelly’s legal and investigative team; these were people who wouldn’t be suspected of trying to cover up a crime. Glozman claimed that McDavid thought the child-pornography tape in Kelly’s 2008 case wasn’t real. “Because he believed that, there was never any intention to obstruct justice,” Glozman argued, per the Tribune.
According to the Sun-Times, “The crowds of supporters that attended Kelly’s 2008 trial in Chicago have been absent during the two days of jury selection” earlier in the week. Testimony started today after opening statements.