CHICAGO (AP) — A federal jury in Chicago convicted R. Kelly on Wednesday of producing child pornography and enticing girls for sex after a monthlong trial in his hometown, delivering another legal blow to the Grammy Award winning singer who was once one of the world’s biggest R&B stars.
Prosecutors won convictions on six of the 13 counts against him, with many of the convictions carrying long mandatory sentences. But the government lost the marquee count — that Kelly and his then-business manager successfully rigged his state child pornography trial in 2008.
Both of his co-defendants, including longtime business manager Derrel McDavid — who had told jurors that testimony from four Kelly accusers had led him to change his mind about Kelly’s believability — were acquitted of all charges.
The trial was, in ways, a do-over of Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial, with a key video critical to both. Kelly, who shed tears of joy when jurors acquitted him in 2008, gave a thumbs-up sign to spectators after Wednesday’s verdict but otherwise showed little emotion.
Before Kelly was returned to federal lockup, McDavid hugged Kelly, who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side to become a superstar.
Asked by reporters later outside court how Kelly felt after the verdict, his lead attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said: “Mr. Kelly is used to bad news.”
“He’s still got many fights to fight,” she said. “But what he did say is that he had a sense of relief that this particular case was in the past now.”
The verdict comes months after a federal judge in New York sentenced Kelly to 30 years in prison in June for racketeering and sex trafficking. Based on that sentence, the 55-year-old won’t be eligible for release until he is around 80.
And two sexual misconduct trials still await Kelly — one in Minnesota and one in state court in Chicago.
After deliberating for 11 hours over two days, jurors convicted Kelly of three counts each of producing child pornography and enticement, while acquitting him of obstruction of justice, one count of production of child porn and three counts of receiving child porn.
Among the charges McDavid was acquitted of was conspiring with Kelly to rig the 2008 trial. Milton Brown, the other co-defendant, was acquitted of receiving child pornography.
Chicago-based U.S. Attorney John Lausch expressed satisfaction with the verdict. He told reporters that, when you add up the potential punishments on the six guilty counts, Kelly was staring at at least 10 years and up to 90 in prison.
Judge Harry Leinenweber did not set a sentencing date. He could order that Kelly serve whatever sentence he imposes simultaneously with the New York sentence or only after that one is fully served. The latter would, for practical purposes, mean a life sentence.
Prosecutors at the federal trial in Illinois portrayed Kelly as a master manipulator who used his fame and wealth to reel in star-struck fans, some of them minors, to sexually abuse then discard them.
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, was desperate to recover pornographic videos he made and lugged around in a gym bag, witnesses said. They said he offered up to $1 million to recover missing videos before his 2008 trial, knowing they would land him in legal peril. The conspiracy to hide his abuse ran from 2000 to 2020, prosecutors said.
Some dozen Kelly fans regularly attended the trial. On at least one occasion during a break, several made hand signs of a heart at Kelly. He smiled back.
Bonjean, Kelly’s attorney, told jurors in her closings that the government had relied, in some cases, on liars and and blackmailers as witnesses. She earlier implored jurors not to see Kelly as “the monster” she said prosecutors so badly wanted them to see.
In her closing rebuttal Tuesday, prosecutor Jeannice Appenteng cited testimony that Kelly’s inner circle increasingly focused on doing what Kelly wanted as his fame boomed in the mid-1990s.
“And ladies and gentlemen, what R. Kelly wanted was to have sex with young girls,” she said.
All four Kelly accusers who testified went by pseudonyms or their first names: Jane, Nia, Pauline and Tracy. Some cried when describing the abuse but otherwise spoke calmly and with confidence. A fifth accuser, Brittany, didn’t testify, and jurors acquitted Kelly of the one charge related to her.
Four of his six convictions were tied directly to Jane and relied largely on her testimony.
She was the government’s star witness and also pivotal to the trial fixing charge, of which he was acquitted, and which accused him of using threats and payoffs to get her to lie to a grand jury before his 2008 trial.
A single video, which state prosecutors said was Kelly abusing a girl of around 14, was the focal point of that trial. Three of the child porn charges that Kelly was convicted of Wednesday were related to that video and others depicting Jane.
Jane, 37, said publicly for the first time at the just-ended trial that the girl in the video was her at age 14 and that the man was Kelly, who would have been around 30.
Some jurors in the 2008 trial said they had to acquit Kelly because the girl in the video didn’t testify.
Asked on the witness stand how many times Jane and Kelly had sexually abused her before she turned 18, Jane answered quietly: “Uncountable times. … Hundreds.”
Jane, who belonged to a teenage singing group, first met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was in junior high school. Soon after that, Jane told her parents Kelly was going to be her godfather.
Jane testified that when her parents confronted Kelly in the early 2000s he dropped to his knees and begged them for forgiveness. She said she implored her parents not to take action against Kelly because she loved him.
Defense attorneys suggested a desire for money and fame drove some government witnesses to accuse Kelly, and they accused several people of trying to blackmail him.
Prosecutors played jurors excerpts from three videos that Jane said featured her. Court officials set up opaque screens around the jurors so spectators couldn’t see the videos or the jurors’ reactions.
But the sound was audible. In one video, the girl is heard repeatedly calling the man “daddy.” At one point she asks: “Daddy, do you still love me?” The man gives her sexually explicit instructions.
Prosecutors have said Kelly recorded the video that was also evidence in the 2008 trial in a log cabin-themed room at his North Side Chicago home around 1998.
Another accuser, Pauline, said Jane introduced her to Kelly when they were 14-year-old middle school classmates in 1998. She told jurors she still cares for Kelly. But, as a 37-year-old mom, she said she now has a different perspective.
“If somebody did something to my kids,” she said, “I’m killing ’em. Period.”
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm and find AP’s full coverage of the R. Kelly trial at https://apnews.com/hub/r-kelly
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Derrel McDavid’s first name.