Prosecutors played the sex tape at the center of R. Kelly’s child pornography trial in open court today (May 20), just hours after opening statements in which they accused the R&B singer of choreographing and starring in the footage with an underage girl.
The jurors, who had been taking feverish notes during opening statements, sat motionless while the video played. Their eyes were fixed on a 4-by-4-foot monitor just outside the jurors’ box; in the courtroom, the lights were dimmed and blinds drawn across windows.
A grim-looking Kelly, 41, appeared to watch the entire footage intently on a small monitor on the defense table. He occasionally rocked in his chair and rested his chin in his hand.
Before playing the tape, the prosecution entered it into the record as “People’s Exhibit No. 1. “
The 27-minute homemade video shows a man having sex with a young female, who is naked for most of the recording except for a necklace with a cross dangling from it.
At the start of the videotape, the man hands the female money and she mouths the words, “Thank you.” She is often blank-faced, impassive. The man speaks to the female in a hushed, monotone voice, and she calls him “Daddy.”
Songs from the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys blare from a radio. The female dances with the man out of view. Back in view, he has sex with her. The man walks up to the camera to adjust it a few times, but his face is often obscured.
Prosecutors say the man in the video is Kelly, and that the female is a girl who was as young as 13 when the tape was made between Jan. 1, 1998, and Nov. 1, 2000. The singer, who has pleaded not guilty, faces up to 15 years if convicted.
During opening statements in the long-delayed trial, Cook County prosecutor Shauna Boliker warned jurors they would have to watch a videotape depicting an “underage child performing sex acts that you have never seen before.”
“A child doesn’t choose to be violated and placed on a videotape, a videotape that will live on forever — long after this child becomes an adult,” Boliker said.
Defense attorneys, however, told jurors in their opening statements that Kelly is not the man on the tape and called the video’s origins into question. The defense also told jurors that the girl who authorities allege is depicted on the tape is not her at all.
That’s a claim that’s also been made by the 23-year-old woman prosecutors say was a minor at the time of the taping. She denies she’s the girl on the video.
The trial has been delayed repeatedly since the tape was mailed to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. The newspaper turned it over to authorities, and Kelly was indicted later that year.
Boliker repeatedly referred to the female depicted in the tape as a “child” and Kelly by his birth name of Robert Kelly. She alleged that the singer took advantage of the inherent trust children place in adults, and that the female on the tape performed acts that Kelly “commanded” her to perform.
The videotape, she said, is “child pornography that was created, staged, produced and starred in by the defendant that sits before you, Robert Kelly.”
Boliker told jurors the state will not be calling the alleged victim to the stand. She did not explain why — an issue defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. was quick to exploit in his opening statements, asking jurors why prosecutors wouldn’t call her as a witness. “One answer,” he said. “One: It’s not her on that tape.”
Adam also tried to raise questions about the tape itself, saying no one knows where it originated before it showed up at the Sun-Times. The videotape in evidence, he said, is “at best a copy of a copy of a copy” and that Kelly is not the man on the tape.
“Not a single witness can tell you that is him on the tape,” Adam said. He also said the FBI could not identify the man on the tape as Kelly. Adam did make it clear what he wanted jurors doing when they watched videotape: Looking for a mole on the man’s back.
Kelly has a “significant” mole in the middle of his lower back that has been there since childhood, Adam said, even displaying a photo of Kelly’s back and the dime-sized mole on courtroom monitors.
Adam said jurors wouldn’t find the mole on the back of the man in the videotape. “There is no mole on his back,” Adam said. “Robert isn’t that man on the tape.”
Adam also told jurors the female that prosecutors claim is depicted on the video “is not a victim because she is not the girl on that tape.” Instead, he suggested the woman in the video is a “professional prostitute” because the man in the video is seen handing her money.
Also Tuesday, jurors heard from retired Chicago police investigator Dan Everett, who said he and his partner were sent to the Sun-Times building in February 2002 after a reporter received a VHS videotape the newspaper wanted to turn over to police.
Everett told jurors what he and his partner witnessed on the sex tape, but he also testified that he knew the female depicted in it was an underage girl because he had interviewed her as part of an earlier investigation.
At that point, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan called a sidebar outside the jury’s presence and threatened to declare a mistrial because Everett had been instructed not to use the word “investigation.”
Everett did not say what the previous investigation involved.
Gaughan scolded Everett, saying he’d made an egregious mistake that violated the judge’s court order and said he would declare a mistrial if the word was used again in reference to the earlier interview.
Everett told the jury when it returned that he had interviewed the young female on Dec. 5, 2000, 14 months before he began investigating the videotape.
Jury selection finished last week with prosecutors and defense attorneys accusing each other of trying to stack the panel along racial lines. Eight of the seated jurors were white and four were black, and that remained the jury’s racial makeup after a white female juror was replaced Tuesday morning by one of four alternates, a white male.
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