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R. Kelly's potential jurors quizzed on 2019 documentary

Jury selection at R. Kelly's federal trial — on charges that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial — began Monday with the judge and lawyers quickly focusing on whether would-be jurors watched a 2019 documentary about sex abuse allegations against the R&B singer.

Asked whether they've seen Surviving R. Kelly as singer's federal trial gets underway

A man in a suit and large black sunglasses walks through a downtown area underneath an umbrella.
R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Court building in Chicago on June 6, 2019. Jury selection got underway Monday for Kelly's federal trial in Chicago. The disgraced singer faces charges that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial. (Amr Alfiky/The Associated Press)

Jury selection at R. Kelly's federal trial — on charges that he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial — began Monday with the judge and lawyers quickly focusing on whether would-be jurors watched a 2019 documentary about sex abuse allegations against the R&B singer.

After denying a request from Kelly's attorney to automatically exclude anyone from the jury who watched the six-part documentary series, Surviving R. Kelly, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber quizzed potential jurors about how much they watched, what they could recall about it and whether they could be impartial if they were selected.

Jurors were asked whether they watched the documentary in a questionnaire they had already filled out. In one instance, a woman who had left her answer blank acknowledged that she had watched several episodes. She was not immediately excused from serving, however.

In all, the judge dismissed at least half of the people he questioned Monday. More often than not, they were excluded after acknowledging that they could not promise to be fair. One woman who was excused explained that she wasn't sure because she worked in education with children.

Jury selection was expected to continue into Tuesday.

The trial centres on whether Kelly threatened and paid off a girl he allegedly sexually assaulted when he was around 30 and she was no older than 14. A recording made of that alleged assault was at the heart of the monthlong 2008 trial and was played for jurors almost every day.

Jurors acquitted Kelly on all charges in that 2008 trial, some explaining later that they felt they had no choice because the girl did not testify. The woman, now in her 30s and referred to in filings only as "Minor 1," will be the government's star witness in the upcoming federal trial, which is expected to last four weeks. 

She was expected to testify about the recording during this trial. 

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Kelly, 55, goes into this trial in Chicago federal court having already been sentenced by a New York federal judge to a 30-year prison term for a 2021 conviction on charges he used his fame to sexually abuse other young fans.

Wearing a light grey suit and a tie, Kelly gave potential jurors a quick wave as his attorney Jennifer Bonjean introduced him. Kelly wore a mask, as did everyone in court due to coronavirus precautions.

Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago's South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, faces multiple charges at the trial. They include four counts of enticement of minors for sex — one each for four other accusers. They, too, are slated to testify.

Convictions in Chicago could add decades to Kelly's New York sentence, which he is appealing. With the New York sentence alone, Kelly will be about 80 before qualifying for early release.

Associates also on trial

Two of Kelly's 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 have also denied any wrongdoing.

Two state cases are also still pending. One is a multiple count sex-abuse case out of Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago. The other is a solicitation case in Minnesota. No trial dates are set for either.

Minor 1 first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in junior high school. She had tagged along to Kelly's Chicago recording studio with her aunt, a professional singer working with Kelly. Soon after, Minor 1 told her parents Kelly was going to become her godfather.

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

Double jeopardy rules bar the prosecution of someone for the same crimes they were acquitted of earlier.

That doesn't apply to the Chicago federal trial because prosecutors are alleging different crimes related to Minor 1, including obstruction of justice.

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