A federal jury on Wednesday (Sept. 14) 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 but was acquitted of a conspiracy to obstruct justice charge accusing him fixing his state child pornography trial in 2008.
The decision comes after a federal judge in New York sentenced Kelly to 30 years in prison in June for racketeering and sex trafficking. Based on that sentence, he won’t be eligible for release until he is around 80.
The Chicago trial was, in many ways, a do-over of Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial, with a key video critical to both.
The legal challenges for Kelly — who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a Grammy-winning superstar — are not yet over. Two further trials are pending; one in Minnesota and another in state court in Chicago.
Jurors began deliberating Tuesday after Judge Harry Leinenweber gave them instructions, including explicit descriptions of what constitutes sexual abuse.
Early Wednesday, jurors wrote several questions to the judge, at least one indicating the panelists may be 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.
In 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.
In her rebuttal Tuesday, prosecutor Jeannice Appenteng told jurors to remember the girls and women who have accused Kelly of abuse.
“When you are in the quiet of the jury room, consider the evidence in light of who is at the center of this case. Kelly’s victims: Jane, Nia, Pauline, Tracy and Brittany,” Appenteng said, referring to five Kelly accusers named in charging documents by pseudonyms or their first names.
As Kelly’s fame boomed in the mid-1990s, Appenteng said, his inner circle increasingly focused on doing what the performer born Robert Sylvester Kelly wanted.
“And ladies and gentlemen, what R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” she said.
Kelly, 55, was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking in New York in June and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Bonjean described Kelly as a flawed genius who has been functionally illiterate since childhood and was ill-equipped to navigate his celebrity and growing wealth. She said that he was abused as a child also deeply affected him.
Known for his smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and for sex-infused songs such as “Bump n’ Grind,” Kelly sold millions of albums even after allegations of sexual misconduct circulated in the 1990s. Widespread outrage emerged after the #MeToo reckoning and the 2019 Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.
Kelly and co-defendant Derrell McDavid, Kelly’s ex-business manager, are accused of fixing Kelly’s 2008 trial on state child porn charges by intimidating and paying off witnesses.
Kelly faces four counts of producing child pornography, one of conspiring to obstruct justice by fixing the 2008 trial, one of conspiring to receive child porn, two of actually receiving it and five of enticing minors for sex.
McDavid is charged with four counts — two for receiving child porn, one for conspiring to do so and one for conspiring to obstruct justice by rigging the 2008 trial, at which Kelly was acquitted.
Co-defendant Milton Brown, a former Kelly associate, faces a single count of conspiring to receive child pornography.