R. Kelly was found guilty of sexually abusing teenage girls Wednesday, marking the second time in a year that a jury has convicted the R&B singer of federal sex crimes.
After deliberating for more than 10 hours, the jury in Chicago delivered their verdict, finding Kelly guilty of three counts of producing child sex abuse images and three counts of enticing underage girls to engage in criminal sexual activity. He was acquitted of seven charges, including conspiring to obstruct justice and receiving and conspiring to receive child sexual abuse images.
Jurors also acquitted Kelly’s former business manager Derrel McDavid of conspiring to obstruct justice and receiving and conspiring to receive child sexual abuse images. Milton Brown, a former assistant for the singer, was found not guilty of conspiring to receive child sexual abuse images.
"[The jurors] did their job, they looked at each count separately, and they obviously concluded, as I concluded long ago, that this case was overcharged," Kelly's attorney Jennifer Bonjean told reporters at the courthouse. "We're not celebrating a win entirely, but we are happy that the jury really did look at each count."
The verdict comes on the heels of Kelly’s conviction in New York last September, which marked the first time the R&B artist has been held accountable for the sexual abuse claims that have dogged him for decades. In June, a judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison, meaning that the 55-year-old could very well be behind bars for the rest of his life.
Three of the six counts he was convicted of on Wednesday carry a minimum of 10 years in prison, according to the US attorney's office.
Prosecutors had tried to show how the R&B singer, who was acquitted of producing child sex abuse images in 2008, escaped accountability for so long. But they ultimately were unable to convince the 12 jurors that there was a systematic effort to hide Kelly’s abuse and rig the 2008 state trial, which also centered around one of the videos played for the federal jury.
In a statement, US Attorney John R. Lausch, Jr. said prosecutors respected the jury's decision to find Kelly and his codefendants not guilty on several counts but emphasized that he is still "finally" being held accountable for sexually abusing young girls.
“While certain aspects of the charges and the trial made it difficult to obtain convictions for all of the charged conduct, it is clear that justice has been served by the guilty verdicts returned today," Lausch said.
The Chicago federal trial was seen as a reckoning on that infamous video that showed Kelly sexually assaulting and urinating on a 14-year-old girl and the trial that followed. Despite jurors in the previous case hearing from more than a dozen witnesses who positively identified the figure on the tape as the 14-year-old, they said at the time they could not be sure it was her and acquitted Kelly of all charges, allowing him to continue preying on girls and young women. It wasn’t until July 2019 that federal prosecutors got involved and indicted the R&B artist in both Chicago and New York. The indictments followed a 2017 investigation by Chicago journalist Jim DeRogatis published by BuzzFeed News and the 2019 docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, which further detailed women’s allegations of Kelly’s abuse.
Over the course of about four weeks, jurors heard from more than a dozen witnesses, including the girl in the graphic video that became forever tied with Kelly’s public persona. Her testimony was highly anticipated after her absence in the 2008 state trial and his decadeslong denial that she was the person in the tape. At trial, the now-37-year-old woman, who testified under the pseudonym Jane, told jurors that Kelly coaxed her into having sex with him hundreds of times when she was a teenager but that she lied to law enforcement and a Cook County grand jury about the true nature of their relationship in order to protect the singer.
"That was something I would take to my grave," Jane said.
During the trial, jurors watched several clips of three videos that witnesses said depicted Kelly sexually abusing Jane when she was a teenager. Jurors also reviewed records of payments to Jane and her family that prosecutors said were meant to keep them quiet. Jane and her mother also testified that Kelly had persuaded them to deny she was the girl in the tape and that he was sexually abusing her.
"I did everything I could to keep that a secret," Jane said. "It was embedded in me that this could never come out."
Jurors also heard from three other women who testified that they were minors when Kelly lured them into having sex with him in the 1990s and early 2000s. While questioning two of the women, Bonjean attempted to show that they were actually 17, the age of consent in Illinois, when their sexual relationships with the R&B artist began, but they insisted that they were in fact younger than that. Lisa Van Allen, a former girlfriend of Kelly’s who testified in the 2008 trial, and two other witnesses told jurors about the concerted and clandestine efforts that the singer and his codefendants took to retrieve tapes of him having a threesome with Van Allen and Jane. Van Allen broke down in tears as she described how McDavid suggested that they should have killed her “from the beginning” after she failed a polygraph test about the tape, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“Kelly and his team, they did their level best … to cover up the fact that Robert Kelly, R. Kelly the R&B superstar, is actually a sexual predator,” Assistant US Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo said during closing arguments. “They did their best, but in the end, they failed.”
Throughout the trial, attorneys for Kelly and his codefendants described the witnesses as liars and extortionists and raised issues with the authenticity of the videos. In her closing argument, Bonjean compared the testimony of some witnesses to cockroaches and the government’s case to soup, saying that if you find a cockroach in your soup, you throw out the whole soup.
“There are just too many cockroaches with these witnesses,” Bonjean said.
McDavid’s and Brown’s lawyers also tried to distance their clients from Kelly, claiming that back in the 2000s they thought the tape at the center of the state’s case was a fake. McDavid, the only one of the three men who testified in his defense, told jurors he had been convinced that it wasn’t Jane in the tape and wanted to believe Kelly when he denied sexually abusing her and other underage girls.
“For the last three weeks ... I’ve learned a lot of things that I had no idea about in 2008,” McDavid testified, according to the Tribune.
He said he had wanted to believe that the women who said they were abused by Kelly were lying because he loved and believed in the R&B star.
“As I stand here today, I’m embarrassed, sad,” McDavid said.
Wednesday’s decision will help the government ensure Kelly stays in prison. The R&B singer, who has continued to deny any wrongdoing, intends to appeal his conviction out of New York. Bonjean tweeted that he was in "good spirits" despite the split verdict, pointing out that his team "won" more counts than they lost.
"He is grateful for the support and the fight continues," she said.
Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor, said the verdict showed how juries continue to be biased against victims. It seemed that while they believed Kelly abused Jane, "they discounted Kelly’s allegedly influencing the victim to remain silent previously for some two decades," he said.
"My inference is that they essentially 'blamed the victim' for that silence rather than Kelly," Wu told BuzzFeed News in an email. "Nonetheless the jury did the right thing convicting Kelly of the child pornography charges adding to the previous federal conviction and sentence of 30 years this does ensure some protection for the community in the future."