Three Jurors Selected in R. Kelly’s Trial

By Noble Johns

CHICAGO, Illinois (BNW) —
After nine years of the nasty video circulating all over the world, three jurors have been selected to here the R. Kelly case. The wife of a Baptist preacher from Kelly's hometown, a business executive and a telecommunications company employee were the first three jurors chosen Monday for the R&B superstar's child pornography trial.

The executive, who is a middle-aged man, called child pornography "the lowest of the low" during questioning by the judge and attorneys. But he said he felt he could give a fair trial to the 41-year-old Kelly, who is accused of videotaping himself having sex with a girl as young as 13.

At one point, Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan said nobody in the room condoned child pornography and Kelly appeared to nod his head in agreement. “Yeah, it’s a nasty… nasty video, but it ain’t me,” Kelly said.

Kelly, the R&B singer, known for sexually charged hits like "Bump N' Grind," has pleaded not guilty to charges that he videotaped himself having sex with a girl as young as 13. The alleged victim, now 23, says it wasn't her on the videotape.

Dressed in a dark silver-gray suit and matching tie, Kelly remained mostly pokerfaced Monday, sometimes appearing to study the faces of would-be jurors across the long conference table.

There were some moments of levity during the eight hours of questioning.

When one man mentioned that someone stole his car a decade ago, Gaughan leaned forward and said, "You know Mr. Kelly had nothing to do with that, right?"

Kelly, who was seated near a men's restroom, frequently held a tissue over his nose during the proceedings, and prosecutors complained about the odor coming from the room.

The preacher's wife from Olympia Fields, where Kelly lives, said her religious beliefs would not affect her service as a juror. The judge reminded her that the trial involved "laws of man, not the laws of God," and she said she understood.

The telecommunications worker, a man in his 50s, said he'd didn't like seeing what he considered pornographic magazines at convenience stores, but he told the judge that wouldn't influence how he assessed the facts in Kelly's case. He added that the only song he knew of Kelly's was the 1997 hit, "I Believe I Can Fly."

Potential jurors who were dismissed included a man in his 50s who prosecutors said clearly was awe-struck by Kelly's celebrity and a security guard who said Kelly would have "some explaining to do" if he was on the video.

About 15 potential jurors were questioned Monday; 20 others out of an initial pool of 150 were scheduled to face questions on Tuesday. Sixteen jurors, four of them alternates, are to be chosen for the trial. Court officials have said questioning and selection from the 150 potential jurors is expected to take about a week.

The alleged victim's denial that she is on the videotape will present prosecutors with a unique challenge once the trial is under way. And Kelly's lawyers — including prominent Chicago attorney Ed Genson — haven't admitted it's Kelly in the video.

Prosecutors say the videotape was made between Jan. 1, 1998, and Nov. 1 2000, and that the alleged victim was born in September 1984. Kelly was indicted on pornography charges June 5, 2002, after the tape surfaced.

If jurors find the Grammy-winning artist guilty, he could go to prison for up to 15 years.

Kelly's lawyers had argued any jury pool has been irrevocably tainted because of pretrial publicity.

But Gaughan denied a defense motion to postpone the trial, which had already been delayed for six years, suggesting jury selection could weed out any tainted jurors.

Although Kelly won a Grammy in 1997 for the gospel-like song "I Believe I Can Fly," his biggest hits are bawdy ballads like "Ignition" and his current single, "Hair Braider." He is due to release a new album in July.

Attorneys and the judge in R. Kelly's child pornography trial began questioning 150 potential jurors Monday, asking what they know about the allegations against one of urban music's biggest stars.

Singer R. Kelly arrives at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Monday.

Kelly remained pokerfaced Monday, appearing at times to scan the faces of the potential jurors and occasionally leaning over to speak with his lawyers.

The selection of the 16 jurors, four of them alternates, will be key for both prosecutors and defense attorneys, said Steve Cron, a defense lawyer from Santa Monica, California, who has practiced for 35 years.

"In a case where a celebrity has good and bad public images, it's critical," said Cron, who has no link to the Kelly case.

It's unlikely the defense could pack the jury with R. Kelly fans, because "the prosecution should be successful in excluding them," he said.

Prosecutors may seek well-educated jurors, which could help their cause if they call technical experts to speak about the videotape, he said.

When the trial gets under way, prosecutors will face a daunting challenge: The girl believed to be on the videotape, who is now 23, says it wasn't her. And Kelly's lawyers — including prominent Chicago attorney Ed Genson — haven't conceded it's Kelly in the video.

Prosecutors say the videotape was made between January 1, 1998, and November 1, 2000, and that the girl who appears in it was born in September 1984. Kelly was indicted on pornography charges June 5, 2002, after the tape surfaced.

If jurors find the Grammy-winning artist guilty, he could go to prison for up to 15 years.

On the first day of the trial Friday, Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan addressed the potential jurors.

"As you know, this is a high-profile case," he said, according to court transcripts. "And if you don't know, God love you. You're probably the only person on Earth that doesn't."

The first session lasted about 30 minutes, and reporters weren't allowed to attend.

Kelly's lawyers had argued any jury pool has been tainted because of pretrial publicity.

Defense attorney Marc Martin cited a front-page story in Friday's Chicago Sun-Times about a possible witness. Potential jurors, he said, could not have avoided seeing the article or hearing about it on radio or television.

But the judge denied a defense motion to postpone the trial, which had already been delayed for six years, suggesting that jury selection could weed out any tainted jurors.

Selecting a jury should take about a week, and the trial itself could take several weeks.

Despite defense arguments, Cron said it is possible to find fair and impartial jurors.

"They got a jury for the Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson trials," said Cron. "They'll find one for this trial too."

Although Kelly won a Grammy in 1997 for the gospel-like song "I Believe I Can Fly," his biggest hits are bawdy ballads like "Ignition" and his current single, "Hair Braider." He is due to release a new album in July.


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