CHICAGO (CN) — Attorneys in Chicago made their opening statements in R. Kelly's federal sexual abuse and child pornography trial on Wednesday, following two days of jury selection.
Federal prosecutors claim the disgraced singer was a sexual predator who had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars covering up his videotaped abuse of teenage girls.
"Kelly had... a hidden side. A dark side. A side that he and [his co-defendants Derrel] McDavid and [Milton] Brown, did not allow the world to see," U.S. Attorney Jason Julien told the jury. "Kelly had sex, repeatedly, with children."
Kelly faces 13 federal charges in total, including four counts of sexual exploitation of children, one count of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, three counts related to child pornography and five counts of criminal sexual abuse.
The Chicago trial was initially meant to precede the Brooklyn case. Prosecutors from the Northern District of Illinois first indicted Kelly in July 2019, along with McDavid and Brown, for allegedly producing, distributing and/or receiving four pornographic videos between 1998 and 2007. All four videos featured a girl given the pseudonym "Jane," who was 14 when a 31-year-old Kelly allegedly made the tapes in 1998. The indictment also accuses Kelly and McDavid of working to cover up the Jane videos for over a decade.
A trial date for the Chicago case was initially set for April 2020, with Kelly's trial in Brooklyn set to begin a month later. The Covid-19 pandemic caused both trials to be pushed back several times, and while the Brooklyn case got underway in August 2021, Kelly's attorneys successfully managed to delay his Chicago trial until this past Monday.
His lead attorney Jennifer Bonjean also unsuccessfully tried to get most of the charges dismissed in May, claiming the statute of limitations to prosecute Kelly's alleged sex crimes had long since expired. The incidents his sex crime charges are based on all occurred between 1998 and 2007, Bonjean argued, so prosecutors only had until 2012 to indict him.
"Consistent with the preceding authority and principles of law... the superseding indictment that charge Defendant with conspiring to and receiving child pornography is subject to the general five-year statement of limitations because those offenses do not necessarily entail the sexual abuse of a child," Bonjean wrote in her motion to dismiss. "As such, the statute of limitations for those offenses expired no later than 2012, making those counts time barred."
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, a Ronald Reagan appointee, disagreed. He denied the motion to dismiss in June, pointing out that the federal statute of limitations for charges of sexually abusing a minor was amended both in 2003 and 2006, and now extends to "the life of the child or ten years after the offense, whichever is longer." Leinenweber also pointed out that when the statute was amended in 2006, the original statute of limitations on the charges Kelly now faces had not yet expired.
"Applying the current version of [the statute] does not impair any of the Defendants’ rights because the statute was amended before the original limitations period expired. This Court will not disturb well-settled law to create new statutory rights where none currently exist," Leinenweber wrote.
Having failed to get the case thrown out, Kelly's attorneys on Monday asked Leinenweber to instead exclude any potential juror who had seen the 2019 docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly." The series was so "incredibly inflammatory," Bonjean argued, that no one who saw it could remain neutral as one of Kelly's jurors.
"It is a fiction… that any [such juror] could be impartial," Bonjean said, adding that seeing the series was also akin to providing jurors a "heap of discovery to dig through."