In the federal prosecution of R. Kelly, the judge disqualifies numerous potential jurors after they claimed they would have difficulty being impartial.
On Monday, the judge began interrogating more than 60 prospective jurors about their knowledge of R. Kelly and the charges brought against him in his federal trial in Chicago.
A total of 34 jurors had survived the first round of questioning by the end of the day, falling just six short of the number the judge had stated he desired before proceeding to the second round.
Kelly was taken into the spacious ceremonial courtroom at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse just before the start of the hearing. Kelly was dressed in a grey suit and a tan shirt, and he took a seat at a crowded defense table while occasionally leaning over to whisper to his lawyers.
When U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber asked each participant to clarify the answers they provided on a written questionnaire, very little information about the potential jurors was disclosed because their identities are being kept secret from the public during the hearings.
A total of 29 of the 63 individuals the judge questioned one-on-one over the course of nearly six hours were dismissed, the majority of whom admitted they would find it difficult to be objective toward Kelly or his co-defendants.
When a potential juror is unsure of their impartiality, some judges will attempt to “rehabilitate” them by reminding them of their civic duty to be fair and sternly questioning if they can fulfill that role. However, Leinenweber blasted on Monday anyone who had even the slightest qualms about their objectivity.
One woman said at the start of the questioning, “After thinking about the case and the charges over the weekend, I no longer truly believe that I can be impartial.” She was soon excused by Leinenweber.
Another woman claimed that because of her past involvement with Kelly’s children in Tae Kwon Do training, she may not be objective now.
Another woman claimed that she works as an advocate for kids.
“I would try my best to be neutral and fair. She remarked, “My only worry would be the defensiveness aspect may be kicking in before Leinenweber took her out of the room.
The “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary series, which many prospective jurors claimed to have seen or at least heard of, was the subject of a lot of the questioning.
One witness claimed that even though she witnessed the entire incident, it would not influence her ability to be impartial, which caused some Kelly fans in the courtroom gallery to audibly snicker.
Another potential juror claimed he saw a portion of an episode with his wife but couldn’t recall any significant details.
He admitted, “I think I may have even dozed off before the conclusion of it.”
Before moving on to the next round, when both the prosecution and the defense would use their peremptory strikes to further weed out the panel, Leinenweber has stated he wanted a pool of at least 40 candidates.
The case’s opening arguments might start as early as Tuesday.
Leinenweber quickly completed a flurry of pretrial rulings before jury selection began at roughly 10:45 a.m., siding with the prosecution on numerous prominent petitions.
Derrel McDavid, a co-defendant in the Kelly case, asked the judge for additional records regarding contacts between a crucial witness and Jim DeRogatis made by a former Kelly prosecutor. He also disagreed with McDavid’s claims that prosecutors mishandled the chain of custody for a crucial video, stating a witness is required to swear under oath to the video’s veracity.
Kelly’s counsel subsequently stated for the record that they had decided not to call the doctor at trial regardless after he was also granted by the judge the prosecution’s request to exclude testimony from a doctor regarding Kelly’s low IQ.
Leinenweber also rejected a defense plea to disqualify any jurors who have watched any portion of the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly.” Anyone who had watched even a small portion of the series, according to Kelly’s legal team, could not be impartial.
Leinenweber, however, argued that it would not be fair to categorically reject everyone who had watched any episode of the show.
At a hearing last week that was never made public, Leinenweber reportedly made decisions regarding many of the requests. Additionally, Leinenweber didn’t read his decisions aloud to the court Monday morning before they became part of the public record.
In a motion submitted on Sunday, Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, stated that the series’ potential drawbacks go far beyond the typical worries about jurors being exposed to unfavorable pre-trial publicity. The series details years of sexual misconduct allegations against the R&B singer, who was born in Chicago.
The problem, according to Bonjean, is that prospective jurors have access to a wealth of information on the precise claims made in this case and the testimonies of the witnesses, which will be the focus of the trial and may or may not be admissible. There is no difference between permitting a jury member to sit on this jury who has viewed “Surviving R. Kelly” and allowing a jury member to sit on the jury who was allowed to preview the discovery in this case.
About 100 prospective jurors showed up last week at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse to complete questionnaires, which included questions about the well-known defendant who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in June on federal racketeering charges prosecuted in New York.
In a 2019 indictment, Kelly, 55, was accused of conspiring with others to rig his Cook County trial years ago by paying off a teenage girl who he sexually assaulted on a now-famous film. Kelly was also charged with child pornography and obstruction of justice.
McDavid, Kelly’s former business manager, and Milton “June” Brown, another accomplice, are also on trial for their claimed roles in a plot to steal incriminating sex videos from Kelly’s collection and conceal years of alleged sexual abuse of minors, according to the indictment.
Even though Kelly already faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison, the Chicago trial that is about to begin seems full of suspense.
For starters, Kelly’s lawyer, Bonjean, is an experienced litigator who enjoys opposing what she sees as an unregulated and aggressive government. She has represented contentious clients like actor Bill Cosby and Gangster Disciples leader Larry Hoover. Mary Judge, the attorney for Brown, is well-known and has worked for the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Chicago for 25 years.
Meanwhile, Chicago lawyers Beau Brindley and Vadim Glozman are defending McDavid. They have made clear in a flurry of pretrial filings that they intend to vigorously contest the allegations, even if it means potentially putting Kelly on trial.
The FBI raided Brindley’s office in the renowned Monadnock Building across from Chicago’s federal courtroom, and the Tribune first covered the matter after Brindley himself was cleared by Leinenweber seven years ago of charges that he had advised clients to lie on the witness stand.
Kelly’s principal counsel in his 2008 child pornography trial was the late Edward Genson, who represented Brindley in that case.
Leinenweber, 85, is a seasoned jurist who sits on the federal bench in Chicago. He is known for his fairness, legal acumen, and relatively limited tolerance for foolishness.
Regardless of how the evidence turns out, Kelly’s trial is the most well-known occasion to take place at the ordinarily stuffy Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in the two and a half years since the pandemic started.
As they did at his first Cook County trial and his Brooklyn trial, Kelly’s ardent supporters—some of whom live-tweet proceedings in his case and share social media films that receive millions of views—are anticipated to turn out in large numbers to support him.
As a potential witness for the defense, DeRogotis has been served with a subpoena.