R. Kelly jurors in Chicago to remain ‘confidential’ due to risk of harassment

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

At a final hearing before a trial starting in August. 15, attorneys for Kelly and his co-defendants argued that the special, secretive treatment could unfairly influence jurors by signaling that their clients posed a risk. But Judge Harry D. Leinenweber joined the government’s lawyers in saying there was good reason to shield the jurors’ identities from the public.

“There is a fairly 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 seems to me that a confidential jury would help this case.”

The ruling came a few weeks after the prosecutor’s office charged an R. Kelly fan named Christopher Gunn to threaten the government attorneys who handled Kelly’s previous trial in Brooklyn. In requesting confidential status to protect the “integrity” of the Chicago trial, prosecutors cited the attention Kelly’s case has attracted, including members of the public contacting those involved.

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

Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, argued back that such claims were merely speculative: “There is no basis to believe that this case will cause any problems in terms of jury harassment or juror influence, so it should just go forward as any second case.” And attorneys for Kelly’s co-defendants said such treatment unfairly signals to jurors that a defendant is dangerous: “When it’s a confidential jury, the jury understands there’s something they need to be concerned about.”

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

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

But he still faces another set of charges in Chicago for child pornography and obstruction of justice charges. Among other things, prosecutors allege that Kelly and others obstructed a police investigation into previous child pornography charges in the state of Illinois. In addition to Kelly, partners Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown are also accused in the upcoming trial.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Leinenweber addressed various other matters within the trial, including a wide range of arguments from both sides about what evidence could and could not be admitted into the case. For example, the judge granted Kelly’s request that the government be barred from discussing his marriage to Aaliyah; the prosecutor did not dispute the point.

Near the end of the hearing, Judge Leinenweber asked each side for an estimate of how long the trial might take. All in all, the government and the lawyers for the three defendants estimated that it could last six weeks. But the judge, citing limited courtroom space, said the case should end a little sooner than that.

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

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