Much was made of whether R. Kelly was the man in the sex tape at the center of his child pornography trial. In the end, the R&B superstar walked away because the jury wasn’t convinced the female in the graphic video was the 13-year-old girl who prosecutors said she was.
One juror even said he was certain it was Kelly on the tape. But by no means was that the crux of the charges.
“You want to be 100 percent sure it’s Kelly and (the alleged victim),” he said. “What we had wasn’t enough.”
Panelists said they remained split — seven for acquittal and five for conviction during an early vote — on Friday morning, just a few hours before the verdict. One thing they all agreed on from the start: After bookend viewings of the tape during opening and closing statements, no one needed to see it again.
“I’ve seen that videotape way too many times,” a woman from the panel said, grimacing. “The first time was one too many.”
None of the five jurors who spoke after the verdict wanted to be identified.
Agonizing 10 minutes
For Kelly, six years of pretrial delays came down to an agonizing 10 minutes: As a court official began to slowly read the verdict for each of the 14 counts, Kelly clutched the hands of his flanking lawyers. He kept his head down and eyes shut tight, barely moving.
As the official got to the last few counts, tears began streaming down Kelly’s face.
“Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,” was all he kept whispering to himself, one of his attorneys, Sam Adam Jr., said.
When it was over, a visibly stunned Kelly dabbed tears from his face with a handkerchief. He stood up and hugged all four defense lawyers.
Kelly, who won the Grammy Award in 1997 for the song “I Believe I Can Fly” and whose biggest hits are raunchy ballads like “Ignition,” didn’t speak to reporters.
His publicist, Allan Mayer, released a statement saying Kelly always knew that “when all the facts came out in court, he would be cleared of these terrible charges. ... all he wants to do is move forward and put it behind him.”
‘People’s Exhibit No. 1’
In the video, entered into evidence as “People’s Exhibit No. 1” on the first day of testimony, a man has sex with a young female, who is naked for most of the recording. She is often blank-faced. The man speaks to her in a hushed voice, and she calls him “Daddy.” In one scene, the man urinates on the female.
Kelly and the now 23-year-old alleged victim had denied they were on the videotape. She never testified, nor did her parents, which several jurors cited as a weakness in the prosecution’s case.
One juror said he thought the woman’s body appeared too developed for 13. Another said prosecutors left too many questions unanswered.
“All of us felt very much the grayness of this case,” he said.
Without the alleged victim’s testimony, prosecutors relied in part on a witness who said she engaged in three-way sex with Kelly and the girl. Defense attorneys labeled that woman an extortionist, claiming she sought hundreds of thousands of dollars from Kelly in exchange for her silence.
They also argued that the man on the tape didn’t have a large mole on his back, as Kelly does. Jurors said the mole argument rarely came up in deliberations and played no role in their verdict.
The alleged victim’s family also presented a puzzle for the jury. Three relatives testified they did not recognize her as the female on the tape, while other relatives said that it was her.
Rise from poverty
Despite his legal troubles, Kelly — who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer — still retains a huge following, and his popularity has grown over the years.
Many of his albums have sold in the millions, among them the seven he’s released since 2002, the year the sex tape was mailed to a Chicago Sun-Times reporter, who turned it over to authorities. Charges soon followed, but the trial was beset by one delay after another.
His recent efforts include “Trapped in the Closet,” a multipart saga about the sexual secrets of an ever-expanding cast of characters; the new song, “Hair Braider”; and a new album that comes out in July.
At his trial, Kelly, always meticulously dressed in a suit and tie, appeared tense at times, furrowing his brow or shaking his head. He seemed particularly ill at ease when prosecutors played the sex tape in court after opening arguments.
Cross examination was often heated. And several witnesses cried on the stand.
The star prosecution witness, Lisa Van Allen, became teary eyed as she told jurors she engaged in several three-way sexual encounters with Kelly and the alleged victim, including once on a basketball court. Kelly videotaped the trysts, she said, and used to carry a duffel bag stuffed full of his homemade sex tapes.
The defense called several witnesses in a bid to discredit Van Allen, accusing her of trying to extort money from Kelly. Under cross-examination, Van Allen admitted she once stole Kelly’s $20,000 diamond-studded watch from a hotel.
Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Shauna Boliker said she believed the female on the tape was a victim, not a prostitute as the defense had contended.
“This shows the world how difficult this crime is to prosecute,” she said. “It also takes the soul of the victim, the heart of the victim.”