CHICAGO >> A federal jury today convicted R. Kelly of several child pornography charges in his hometown of Chicago, delivering another legal blow to a singer who used to be one of the biggest R&B stars in the world.
Kelly, 55, was found guilty on three counts of child pornography and three counts of child enticement.
But the jury acquitted him on a fourth pornography count as well as a conspiracy to obstruct justice charge accusing him fixing his state child pornography trial in 2008. He was found not guilty on all three counts of conspiring to receive child pornography and for two further enticement charges.
His two co-defendants were found not guilty on all charges.
Jurors, who deliberated for 11 hours over two days, wrote several questions to the judge on Wednesday, at least one indicating the panelists were grappling with some of the case’s legal complexities.
One asked if they had to find Kelly both enticed and coerced minors, or that he either enticed or coerced them. Over objections from Kelly’s lawyer, the judge said they only need to find one.
At trial, prosecutors sought to paint a picture of Kelly as a master manipulator who used his fame and wealth to reel in star-stuck fans, some of them minors, to sexually abuse then discard them.
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, was desperate to recover child pornographic videos he made and lugged around in a gym bag, witnesses said. They said he offered up to $1 million to recover missing videos before his 2008 trial, knowing they would land him in legal peril. The conspiracy to hide his abuse ran from 2000 to 2020, prosecutors said.
Kelly associates Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown were co-defendants at the Chicago trial. Jurors acquitted McDavid, a longtime Kelly business manager, who was accused of conspiring with Kelly to rig the 2008 trial. Brown, a Kelly associate for years, was acquitted of receiving child pornography.
Kelly has already been convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking in New York and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In Chicago, a conviction of just one count of child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, while receipt of child pornography carries a mandatory minimum of five years. Judges can order that defendants sentenced earlier in separate cases serve their new sentence simultaneously with or only after the first term is fully served. Federal inmates must serve at least 85% of their sentences.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean likened the government’s testimony and evidence to a cockroach and its case to a bowl of soup.
If a cockroach falls into soup, she said, “you don’t just pull out the cockroach and eat the rest of the soup. You throw out the whole soup,” said told jurors.
“There are just too many cockroaches,” she said of the prosecution’s case.
The three defendants called only a handful of witnesses over four days. Co-defendant McDavid, who was on the stand for three days, may have damaged Kelly’s hopes for acquittal by saying that he now doubts Kelly was truthful when he denied abusing anyone after hearing the superstar’s accusers testify.
In her closing rebuttal, prosecutor Jeannice Appenteng cited testimony that Kelly’s inner circle increasingly focused on doing what Kelly wanted as his fame boomed in the mid-1990s.
“And ladies and gentlemen, what R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” she said.
Four Kelly accusers testified, all referred to by pseudonyms or their first names: Jane, Nia, Pauline and Tracy. Some cried when describing the abuse but otherwise spoke calmly and with confidence. A fifth accuser, Brittany, did not testify.
Sitting nearby in a suit and face mask, Kelly often averted his eyes and looked down as his accusers spoke.
Some dozen die-hard Kelly fans regularly attended the trial. On at least one occasion during a break, several made hand signs of a heart at Kelly. He smiled back.
Jane, 37, was the government’s star witness and pivotal to the fixing charge, which accused Kelly of using threats and payoffs to get her to lie to a grand jury before his 2008 trial and to ensure she and her parents wouldn’t testify.
A single video, which state prosecutors said was Kelly abusing a girl of around 14, was the focal point of that trial.
On the witness stand for two days at the end of August, Jane paused, tugged at a necklace and dabbed her eyes with a tissue when she said publicly for the first time that the girl in the video was her aged 14 and that the man was Kelly, who would have been around 30.
Some jurors in the 2008 trial said they had to acquit Kelly because the girl in the video didn’t testify. At the federal trial in Chicago, Jane said she lied to a state grand jury in 2002 when she said it was not her in the video, saying part of her reason for lying was that she cared for Kelly and didn’t want to get him into trouble.
Jane told jurors she was 15 when they first had intercourse. Asked how many times they had sex before she turned 18, she answered quietly: “Uncountable times. … Hundreds.”
Jane, who belonged to a teenage singing group, first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in junior high school. She had visited Kelly’s Chicago recording studio with her aunt, a professional singer. Soon after that meeting, Jane told her parents Kelly was going to be her godfather.
Jane testified that when her parents confronted Kelly in the early 2000s he dropped to his knees and begged them for forgiveness. She said she implored her parents not to take action against Kelly because she loved him.
Defense attorneys suggested a desire for money and fame drove some government witnesses to accuse Kelly, and they accused several people of trying to blackmail him. They also suggested that at least one of his accusers was 17 — the age of consent in Illinois — when Kelly began pursing her for sex.
Bonjean implored jurors not to accept the prosecution’s portrayal of her client as “a monster,” saying Kelly was forced to rely on others because of intellectual challenges, and that he was sometimes led astray.
“Mr. Kelly can also be a victim,” she said in her opening statement.
Prosecutors played jurors excerpts from three videos that Jane said featured her. Court officials set up opaque screens around the jurors so journalists and spectators couldn’t see the videos or the jurors’ reactions.
But the sound was audible. In one video, the girl is heard repeatedly calling the man “daddy.” At one point she asks: “Daddy, do you still love me?” The man gives her sexually explicit instructions.
Prosecutors have said Kelly shot the video that was also evidence in the 2008 trial in a log cabin-themed room at his North Side Chicago home around 1998.
Another accuser, Pauline, said Jane introduced her to Kelly when they were 14-year-old middle school classmates in 1998. At Kelly’s Chicago home later that year, Pauline described her shock when she said she first walked in on Kelly and a naked Jane. She said Kelly told her that everyone has secrets. “This is our secret,” she testified he said.
Pauline told jurors she still cares for Kelly. But, as a 37-year-old mom, she said she now has a different perspective.
“If somebody did something to my kids,” she said, “I’m killing ’em. Period.”
A timeline of Kelly’s life through his rise and fall as an R&B artist:
— 1990: R. Kelly’s R&B group MGM wins the $100,000 grand prize on the syndicated television talent show “Big Break,” hosted by Natalie Cole. Because of money disagreements, that is the last time the group performs together.
— January 1992: R. Kelly & Public Announcement debuts “Born Into The ’90s.” Released a year later, the album goes platinum.
— November 1993: His album “12 Play” is released and sells more than 5 million copies. Hit singles include “Sex Me” and “Bump N’ Grind,” which becomes the longest-running No. 1 R&B song in more than 30 years.
— Aug. 31, 1994: At age 27, R. Kelly marries 15-year-old R&B singer Aaliyah D. Haughton in a secret ceremony arranged by Kelly at a Chicago hotel. The marriage is annulled months later because of Aaliyah’s age. (Aaliyah died in a plane crash seven years later, at age 22.)
— November 1996: R. Kelly releases his third album, “R. Kelly.” A month later, he incorporates Rockland Records. His song “I Believe I Can Fly,” from the “Space Jam” soundtrack, peaks at No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart. The same year, he marries 22-year-old Andrea Lee, a dancer from his touring troupe. The couple has three children: Joanne, Jaya and Robert Jr.
— February 1998: Kelly wins three Grammys for “I Believe I Can Fly.”
— August 2001: Tracy Sampson files a lawsuit against Kelly, alleging their sex was illegal under Illinois law because he was in “a position of authority” over her. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
— Feb. 8, 2002: The Chicago Sun-Times reports that it received a videotape allegedly showing Kelly having sex with a minor. The paper reports that Chicago police began investigating allegations about Kelly and the same girl three years earlier. At the time, the girl and her parents deny she was having sex with Kelly.
The day the news breaks, Kelly performs at the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
— June 5, 2002: Kelly is indicted in Chicago on child pornography charges related to the sex tape. He pleads not guilty and is released on $750,000 bail.
— May 9, 2008: Kelly’s child pornography trial begins.
— June 13, 2008: Kelly is acquitted on all counts after less than a day of deliberations.
— June 27, 2012: Kelly publishes his autobiography, “Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me,” focusing on his creative and family life rather than his legal troubles.
— Sept. 29, 2012: Kelly is nominated for two Soul Train Awards, making him the most nominated act ever at the awards show.
— July 17, 2017: BuzzFeed reports on parents’ claims that Kelly brainwashed their daughters and was keeping them in an abusive “cult.” One woman says she was with Kelly willingly. Activists launch the #MuteRKelly movement, calling for boycotts of his music.
— May 2018: Spotify cuts R. Kelly’s music from its playlists, citing its policy on hateful conduct. Shortly after, Apple and Pandora also stop promoting his music. Kelly’s team pushes back, noting other artists on Spotify have been accused or convicted of crimes.
— Jan. 3, 2019: Lifetime airs the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which revisits old allegations and brings new ones into the spotlight. The BBC’s “R Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes,” released the previous year, alleges the singer held women against their will.
— Jan. 21, 2019: Multiple media outlets report that Kelly and his label, Sony subsidiary RCA Records, part ways. Kelly continues to deny all abuse allegations.
— Feb. 22, 2019: Kelly is arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse.
— Feb. 25, 2019: Kelly’s attorney enters not guilty pleas on the singer’s behalf. Hours later, Kelly posts bail and is released from jail in Chicago.
— March 6, 2019: CBS airs an interview in which Kelly vehemently denies the sexual abuse charges. Cook County authorities take Kelly into custody after he tells a judge he can’t pay $161,000 in child support.
— May 30, 2019: Kelly is charged with 11 new sex-related counts in Chicago. They involve one of the women who accuses him of sexually abusing her when she was underage.
— July 11, 2019: Kelly is indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago on charges including child pornography, enticement of a minor and obstruction of justice. A separate indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York includes charges of racketeering, kidnapping, forced labor and the sexual exploitation of a child. He is again arrested in Chicago.
— July 16, 2019: A federal judge orders Kelly held without bond after a prosecutor warns he poses an extreme danger to young girls.
— Aug. 5, 2019: Kelly is charged in Minnesota with prostitution and solicitation related to an allegation that he invited a 17-year-old girl to his hotel room in 2001 and paid her $200 to dance naked with him.
— March 5, 2020: Kelly pleads not guilty in Chicago to an updated federal indictment that includes child pornography charges and allegations involving a new accuser.
— Aug. 12, 2020: Federal prosecutors announce charges against three men accused of threatening and intimidating women who have accused Kelly of abuse, including one man suspected of setting fire to a vehicle in Florida.
— Aug. 18, 2021: Opening statements begin in Kelly’s federal trial in New York.
— Sept. 27, 2021: A jury finds Kelly guilty of sex trafficking and violating the Mann Act, which makes it illegal to take anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
— June 29, 2022: Kelly is sentenced to 30 years in prison in New York.
— Aug. 15, 2022: Jury selection starts for Kelly in federal court in Chicago on child pornography, enticement and obstruction of justice charges.
— Sept. 14, 2022: A federal jury convicts Kelly of three child pornography counts and three counts of child enticement. But the jury acquits him on a fourth pornography count, a conspiracy to obstruct justice charge related to his 2008 trial, three counts of conspiring to receive child pornography and two more enticement charges.