R. Kelly not a 'monster,' lawyer tells Chicago jury

R. Kelly's federal trial on allegations that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial and enticed minor girls for sex is about the R&B singer's "hidden side," a prosecutor told jurors during opening statements Wednesday.

Defence, prosecution give opening statements during 2nd day of singer's trial

A man in a suit wearing large sunglasses walks on a sunny day underneath an umbrella another man is holding over him. He is surrounded by a crowd of people.
Singer R. Kelly leaves a Chicago courthouse following a hearing in relation to allegations of sexual abuse made against him, on May 7, 2019. Kelly is again on trial in Chicago, this time on allegations that he rigged a 2008 state child pornography trial and enticed minors for sex. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

R. Kelly's federal trial on allegations that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial and enticed minor girls for sex is about the R&B singer's "hidden side," a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Jason Julien said during opening statements that much of the world knew Kelly by his hit song I Believe I Can Fly. That was "Kelly's public side," he said, noting Kelly also had a dark, hidden side. "This trial is about Kelly's hidden side."

But in her opening statement, Kelly's lawyer implored jurors not to accept what she said is the prosecution's portrayal of her client as a monster.

"When the government wants to paint him as a monster … you remember we are talking about a human being," said Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly's lead attorney. 

She told jurors that Kelly, in part because of intellectual challenges that included illiteracy, was forced to rely on others as his career took off and that he was sometimes led astray by those in his circle of associates.

"Mr. Kelly can also be a victim," she said.

A man in a suit, dark sunglasses and a black mask is pictured in front of a grey wall.
Co-defendant Milton Brown walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago as opening statements began in R. Kelly's federal trial on Wednesday morning. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times/The Associated Press)

Bonjean also warned jurors not to succumb to what she called "a mob justice climate" surrounding Kelly, alluding to the six-part documentary, Surviving R. Kelly, and years of harsh comments about him on social media. 

"It is true that Mr. Kelly is imperfect," she said. "On his journey from poverty to stardom, he stumbled along the way." But she said she was confident jurors would ultimately find him not guilty.

Kelly is charged in federal court in his hometown of Chicago with enticing minors for sex, producing child pornography and rigging his 2008 child pornography trial at which he was acquitted.

Prosecution to show video excerpts

Julien sought to give jurors a sense of the scale of Kelly's alleged exploitation, saying he "repeatedly" had sex with girls who were just 14, 15 and 16 years old — "multiple girls, hundreds of times."

He told jurors that the evidence includes at least three videos showing Kelly having sex with underage girls.

"We're not going to play hours of child pornography and make you watch it," the prosecutor said, explaining they would see excerpts.

WATCH | R. Kelly's attorney argues he will face 'tainted' jury

R. Kelly's attorney argues he will face 'tainted' jury

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Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer representing R. Kelly, argues it will be difficult to find impartial jurors who haven't heard about the singer or have watched the documentary Surviving R. Kelly. Bonjean says this is a 'rare case where bias must be presumed.'

"The videos are difficult to watch. But it is important to watch ... to understand what happened."

Later Wednesday, prosecutors entered into evidence video that was at the centre of Kelly's 2008 trial, but did not play any of it for jurors before court ended for the day. Prosecutors contend the video is of Kelly having sex with a girl no older than 14 when he was around 30.

The jury was chosen Tuesday night with prosecutors and defence attorneys arguing toward the end of the process about whether the government was improperly attempting to keep some Black people off the jury. Kelly is Black.

About half of the 12 jurors chosen were identified as Black by the judge, prosecutor and defence attorneys.

Some of the jurors selected said they had watched at least part of Surviving R. Kelly, about sex abuse allegations against the Grammy award-winning singer.

Watching it wasn't an automatic disqualification as long as a would-be juror could assure U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber they could still be impartial.

One focus of the trial will be whether Kelly threatened and paid off a girl with whom he allegedly sexually assaulted when he was about 30 and she was no older than 14. That's the allegation underpinning another of the charges against Kelly: conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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Disgraced R&B star R. Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering and sex trafficking charges. Several of his victims described their abuse at the hearing and the lasting effect on their lives.

Jurors in the 2008 child pornography trial acquitted Kelly, with some later explaining that they felt they had no choice because the girl did not testify. The woman, now in her 30s and referred to in court filings only as "Minor 1," will be the government's star witness. Prosecutors have said they will refer to her by the pseudonym "Jane" in court.

Kelly, 55, was previously sentenced by a New York federal judge to a 30-year prison term for a 2021 conviction on charges that he used his fame to sexually abuse young fans.

Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago's South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, will be around 80 before qualifying for early release based on his sentence imposed in New York, which he is appealing.

Kelly faces four counts of enticement of minors for sex — one each for four other accusers. They, too, are expected to testify in the Chicago trial. 

Two Kelly associates, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, are co-defendants at the Chicago trial. McDavid is accused of helping Kelly fix the 2008 trial, while Brown is charged with receiving child pornography. Like Kelly, they also have denied wrongdoing.

A recording of Kelly allegedly sexually assaulting Minor 1 was at the heart of the monthlong 2008 trial and was played for jurors almost every day. She was expected to testify about it during this trial. 

Prosecutors say Kelly threatened and sought to pay off Minor 1 and her parents so they wouldn't testify in 2008. None of them did.