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R. Kelly Jurors Will Stay ‘Confidential’ Due to Risk of Harassment, Judge Rules

Weeks after an R. Kelly supporter was charged with threatening prosecutors, a judge says the identities of jurors need to be shielded.

A Chicago federal judge ruled Wednesday that R. Kelly’s looming trial on child pornography charges will be decided by a “confidential jury,” citing the risk posed by people who have been “quite active in expressing their disagreement” with the charges against the singer.

At a final hearing ahead of a trial set to start Aug. 15, attorneys for Kelly and his co-defendants argued that the special, secretive treatment might unfairly bias jurors by signaling that their clients posed a risk. But Judge Harry D. Leinenweber sided with government attorneys and said there was good reason to shield jurors’ identities from the public.


“There is a rather large group of people who feel quite strongly about Mr. Kelly and are quite active in expressing their disagreement with his treatment,” the judge said. “It would seem to me that a confidential jury would help this case.”

The ruling came weeks after prosecutors charged an R. Kelly fan named Christopher Gunn with threatening the government attorneys who handled Kelly’s previous trial in Brooklyn. In asking for confidential status to protect the “integrity” of the Chicago trial, prosecutors cited the attention Kelly’s case has drawn, including members of the public contacting people involved.

“We think that if the jurors names are public during the trial, there is a significant potential that they will be contacted online or in some way, and it will interfere with their ability to focus and hear the evidence without external influences,” a government lawyer argued Wednesday.

Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, argued back that such claims were merely speculative: “There’s no basis to believe that this case is going to present any problems in terms of harassing the jury or influencing jurors, so it should just proceed like any other case.” And attorneys for Kelly’s co-defendants said that such treatment unfairly signals to jurors that a defendant is dangerous: “When it’s confidential jury, the jury understands that there is something they need to be worried about.”

Wednesday’s order did not require an “anonymous” jury, in which all information about jurors is shielded. In a confidential jury, the parties involved in the case have access to that info, but it is never released to the public.

After decades of accusations of sexual misconduct, Kelly was convicted last year in New York on racketeering and sex trafficking charges related to accusations that he orchestrated a long-running scheme to recruit and abuse women and underage girls. In June, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

But he’s still facing a second set of charges in Chicago on child pornography and obstruction-of-justice charges. Among other things, prosecutors claim Kelly and others hampered a police investigation into previous state-law child porn charges in Illinois. In addition to Kelly, associates Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown also face charges in the upcoming trial.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Leinenweber dealt with various other pre-trial matters, including a long list of arguments from both sides on what evidence could and couldn’t be admitted in the case. For instance, the judge granted Kelly’s request that the government be barred from mentioning his marriage to Aaliyah; prosecutors didn’t challenge the point.

Near the end of the hearing, Judge Leinenweber asked each side for an estimate of how long the trial might take. All told, the government and the attorneys for the three defendants estimated that it might run six weeks. But the judge, citing limited courtroom space, said the proceedings would need to wrap a bit faster than that.

“We’re going to get it done in four weeks, come hell or high water, and I have a reputation for moving a case along,” Judge Leinenweber said.