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R. Kelly found guilty on child porn charges in Chicago federal trial

Whatever sentence the 55-year-old Kelly receives in Chicago will be added on top of the 30 years he got in Brooklyn federal court for a 2021 sex trafficking conviction.

CHICAGO (CN) — Former R&B star R. Kelly has been found guilty of child pornography charges in the second federal trial the singer has faced since 2021. The trial, held in Chicago's Dirksen Federal Courthouse, lasted a month.

The jury reached its verdict Wednesday afternoon after 11 hours of deliberation. The jurors found Kelly, 55, guilty on six of the 13 child porn, conspiracy, and underage sexual enticement charges federal prosecutors filed against him in 2019.

Of the six charges on which Kelly was found guilty, three were for the production of sex tapes between 1998 and 1999 featuring his goddaughter, a then-14 year old girl going by the pseudonym Jane. The other three guilty counts were for enticing sex with three underage girls: Jane and two other women going by the pseudonyms Nia and Pauline.

Kelly was acquitted on seven other charges, including four conspiracy charges. The jury also acquitted Kelly's co-defendant Derrel McDavid, his former manager, on the same four conspiracy charges. Milton Brown, another co-defendant and Kelly's former personal assistant, was also not found guilty on his single conspiracy charge. Cheers went up in the courtroom as McDavid's and Brown's verdicts were read.

Besides the conspiracy charges, the jury also found Kelly not guilty on two sexual enticement charges related to alleged sexual encounters with two other women called Tracy and Brittany. Tracy's testimony had inconsistencies which came to light during cross-examination, and Brittany never appeared in court at all. Prosecutors said Brittany would testify during their opening statements in August, and never explained her absence.

In a post-trial press conference, Kelly's lead defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean said it was "offensive" that the government charged the singer with sexually enticing a woman the jury never even saw.

"The jury did not accept that you could charge an indictment and not even bring a witness in, that being Brittany," Bonjean said. "Which was really offensive in my view. You're going to charge someone with serious offenses that carry serious time and you don't even think you have to bring that witness in to tell what happened?"

The Brittany controversy aside, Jane was the undisputed center of the trial throughout its month-long proceedings. The videos featuring her began leaking in the early aughts, most famously when one tape was sent to former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis in February 2002. Kelly was indicted in Cook County on 21 child porn charges later that year, but he was acquitted of all of them in 2008. At the time, Jane and her parents maintained that it was not her on the tape.

Jane reversed her testimony for this trial. She testified in August that she began a sexual relationship with Kelly at age 14, and that he filmed them engaging in sex acts and threesomes on multiple occasions. U.S. attorneys alleged in their 2019 indictment that Kelly convinced Jane and her parents to lie about the relationship to a Cook County grand jury in 2002, and that he, McDavid and Brown conspired to recover the videos and buy off or intimidate other witnesses all the way through the 2008 Cook County trial.

In August, Kelly's ex-girlfriend Lisa Van Allen even testified that McDavid said he and Kelly should have "merc'd her," meaning killed her, for absconding with an alleged threesome tape featuring herself, Kelly and Jane in 2002.

The 2019 indictment also alleged that Kelly enticed five underage girls, including Jane, for sex between 1996 and 2000. Tracy, Nia and Pauline took the stand in August after Jane testified. They all alleged varying degrees of sexual contact with Kelly before turning 18, ranging from the singer masturbating in front of them to Tracy's testimony that Kelly sexually assaulted her.

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Defense attorneys for Kelly and his co-defendants took different strategies when responding to these allegations.

Brown's attorney Mary Judge argued that her client was merely one of Kelly's workaday employees, doing his job as Kelly directed him without regard to any sexual misconduct or conspiracy to cover up child porn.

McDavid's attorney Beau Brindley took a similar approach. In direct examination he prompted McDavid to admit he did help Kelly recover various sex tapes that had leaked publicly between 2001 and 2008.

Similarly, McDavid testified that on the advice of Kelly's now-deceased attorneys Gerry Margolis and Ed Genson, he settled several civil sexual misconduct lawsuits different women brought against Kelly in the late 90s and early aughts. McDavid also said he paid off a Kansas City man named Chuck Freeman, who repeatedly demanded $1 million in exchange for the return of one of the Jane tapes, and who threatened to hold a press conference on the tape amid Kelly’s 2008 Cook County trial.

But Brindley argued that this was all just McDavid doing his job. He portrayed McDavid as a dedicated friend and manager to Kelly, just trying to protect the singer from what must have appeared as cynical extortion attempts. McDavid himself repeatedly testified that he considered the Jane tapes to be fakes or, in the case of Van Allen's tape, a mundane threesome featuring only legal adults: Kelly, Van Allen and Kelly's ex-wife Andrea.

Kelly's own defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean said her colleagues' strategies implied Kelly's guilt. Indeed, McDavid testified in September that he now felt "embarrassed" about how he acted two decades ago, and that his view of Jane and the other alleged victims' stories had changed over the course of this trial.

"I've learned a lot of things that I had not idea about in 2008... All I knew was Jane said it wasn't her over and over... Before this trial, all I knew was what I knew. That Jane was innocent and so was [Kelly]," McDavid said on the stand last week.

Bonjean moved to dismiss the case several times on these grounds, arguing Brown and McDavid's attorneys had unfairly prejudiced the jury against Kelly. U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, the Ronald Reagan appointee presiding over the case, denied those motions.

In lieu of a dismissal, Bonjean repeatedly characterized the prosecution's case against Kelly as reliant on untrustworthy sources - individuals motivated by material gain at best, or who were pathological liars at worst. On several occasions during cross-examination, she made a point of highlighting inconsistencies and contradictory statements in government witnesses' testimonies .

She particularly zeroed in on the testimony given by Tracy, who said Kelly sexually assaulted her after she met him at a Black Women's Expo in 1999. Testimony from the event's organizers and a 2001 civil sexual misconduct lawsuit filed against Kelly by Tracy herself showed the event didn't take place until 2000.

In closing arguments on Tuesday, Bonjean likened the government's case to cockroaches in a bowl of soup.

"When you find a cockroach in your soup, you don't just throw out the cockroach and eat the rest of the soup," Bonjean said Tuesday.

Following the trial on Wednesday, Bonjean said she was glad her client was acquitted of more charges than he was convicted, and that she is considering filing an appeal for the charges Kelly lost.

Conversely, John Lausch, US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said after the trial that his office was "pleased" Kelly had been found guilty on charges related to the same sex tapes that were the subject of his 2008 trial.

"We are particularly pleased that Robert Kelly is finally, finally being held responsible for the abuse of his 14-year-old goddaughter," Lausch said.

Lausch said Kelly will likely see 10 to 90 years behind bars for the convictions he received Wednesday. He added that his office will push for Kelly's Chicago sentence to be served consecutively to the 30 years he got in June in Brooklyn federal court for a 2021 sex trafficking conviction.

Kelly still faces several state criminal indictments in Cook County, as well as civil litigation over his song royalties, currently held in escrow by Sony.

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