R. Kelly‘s federal trial in Chicago, which begins Monday (Aug. 15), is in many ways a do-over of his 2008 state child pornography trial, in which jurors acquitted the singer on charges that he produced a video of himself, when he was about 30. having sex with a girl no older than 14.
There is one big difference: This time, prosecutors say, she will testify.
Kelly, 55, is already in Chicago federal court sentenced by a federal judge in New York to 30 years in prison for a 2021 conviction on charges that he parlayed his fame into sexually abusing other young fans.
Among the most serious charges the Grammy Award winner faces in his federal trial are conspiracy to obstruct justice by cheating at trial in 2008, including paying off and threatening the girl to ensure she did not testify.
Testimony from the woman, now in her 30s and referred to in the archives only as “Minor 1”, will be crucial. The charges against Kelly also include four counts of luring minors for sex — one count each for four other accusers. Everyone must also testify.
Even just one or two convictions in Chicago could add decades to Kelly’s sentence in New York, which he is appealing. With the New York sentence alone, Kelly will be about 80 before he qualifies for early release.
Prosecutors at the federal trial plan to play the same VHS tape that was “Exhibit No. 1” at the 2008 trial. While it was the only video in evidence 14 years ago, at least three other videos will be introduced into evidence at the federal lawsuit.
Prosecutors say Kelly recorded the video of Minor 1 in a log cabin-themed room in his North Side Chicago home between 1998 and 2000, when she was as young as 13. In it, the girl is heard calling the man “Daddy.” Federal prosecutors say she and Kelly had sex hundreds of times over the years in his home, recording studios and tour buses.
Before the 2008 trial, Kelly carried a bag full of sex tapes everywhere he went for years, but some tapes later went missing, according to court documents. In the 2000s, bootleg copies of some videos appeared on street corners across the United States
Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer, knew that a conviction in 2008 would effectively end his life as he knew it.
On June 13, 2008, Kelly closed her eyes and bowed her head as jurors returned from deliberations. As a court official read the jury’s decision and it became clear that Kelly would be acquitted on all counts, tears streamed down his cheeks and he said over and over, “Thank you, Jesus.”
Two Kelly employees, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, are co-defendants in Chicago. McDavid is accused of helping Kelly fix the lawsuit in 2008, while Brown is accused of receiving child pornography. Like Kelly, they have also denied any wrongdoing.
Double jeopardy rules preclude prosecuting someone for the same crimes for which they were previously acquitted. But that shouldn’t apply to the federal trial in Chicago because prosecutors allege various crimes related to Minor 1, including obstruction of justice to resolve the 2008 trial.
Minor 1 first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in junior high school. She tagged along to Kelly’s recording studio in Chicago with her aunt, a professional singer who worked on Kelly’s music. Shortly after that meeting, Minor 1 told her parents that Kelly was going to be her godfather.
In the early 2000s, the aunt showed the parents a copy of a video she said depicted their daughter having sex with Kelly. When they confronted Kelly, he told them, “You’re with me or against me,” a government filing says.
The parents took it as a threat.
“Minor 1’s mother did not want to go up against Kelly’s power, money and influence by not following what he said,” the suit adds.
Kelly told the parents and Minor 1 to leave Chicago and pay for them to travel to the Bahamas and Cancun, Mexico. When they returned, prosecutors say Kelly tried to isolate Minor 1 and moved her around to different hotels.
When her father and mother were called before a state grand jury that looked at the video, Minor 1, her father and mother denied that it was her in it. Prosecutors say a lawyer for Kelly sat in on their testimony and reported back to Kelly what they said.
Prosecutors from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office chose to move forward with charges and take the case to trial in 2008 despite what they knew was a major obstacle: their inability to call the girl in the video to testify.
Any confidence Kelly may have had in beating similar charges a second time was likely destroyed when he found out that Minor 1 was now cooperating with the government. With more resources, federal prosecutors also boast conviction rates of more than 90%, compared to about 65% for their state counterparts.
In 2008, his lawyers argued that the man in the VHS video who looked very much like Kelly was not Kelly. They showed jurors that Kelly has a large mole on his back, then played excerpts of the video where no mole was visible on the man.
One of Kelly’s attorneys, Sam Adam Jr., told jurors during closings that no mole on the man’s back meant one thing: “It’s not him. And if it’s not him, you can’t judge.”
Some 2008 jurors told reporters after the trial that they were not convinced the woman in the video was who state prosecutors said she was.
That shouldn’t be a problem at the federal trial in Chicago. Prosecutors say both the girl and her parents will testify.
What a defense Kelly’s valid team will present this time is not clear.
The defense is likely to say Kelly’s accusers are misrepresenting the facts. Kelly was more blunt in a 2019 interview with Gayle King of CBS this morningand said of the women, “They all lie.”