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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

Jury Selection for R. Kelly's Sex Trafficking Trial Begins—and They're the Only Public Members Allowed in Courtroom

Twelve jurors and six alternates will be selected for Kelly's federal trial in New York, which is set to officially begin with opening arguments on Aug. 18.

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R. Kelly arrives at the Circuit Court of Cook County, Domestic Relations Division on March 6, 2019.
R. Kelly arrives at the Circuit Court of Cook County, Domestic Relations Division on March 6, 2019.
Photo: JOSHUA LOTT/AFP (Getty Images)

Following a few delays due to COVID-19 protocols, Robert “R.” Kelly is facing the music and his trial is inching closer and closer. So close, in fact, that we’re at the jury selection process.

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On Monday, 12 jurors and six alternates will be selected for federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Kelly faces several racketeering and sex trafficking charges. Kelly, who has denied all charges, could possibly serve decades in prison if convicted.

According to CNN, the selected jurors will be the only public members to be allowed in the courtroom. Though this is a very high-profile case, other public members or even members of the media will be unable to watch the trial in person. U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly confirmed that non-jury members will be able to view the trial via video feed in a separate “overflow” room, but may not be able to see the actual evidence as it’s presented.

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In a recent explainer of the upcoming trial, the Chicago Tribune provided context to the significance of Kelly’s charges:

Legal experts said charging Kelly under the racketeering statute—commonly referred to by the acronym RICO—is likely uncharted territory for the 1970 law, which was originally designed to go after mafia bosses who shielded themselves by using underlings to do their dirty work.

“Here, R. Kelly is the Godfather,” said Jeff Grell, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and an expert in RICO law. “The enterprise is the managers, the bodyguards and runners who do his bidding.”

What makes the racketeering charge such a powerful weapon against Kelly, legal experts said, is that prosecutors can give jurors a 30,000-foot view of the singer’s alleged criminal behavior, both in terms of longevity and the number of victims involved.

“It’s an effective tool for prosecutors because it allows them to bring in evidence they might not otherwise be able to bring in, to give jurors a much broader look at the playing field,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who is now senior managing director of the Chicago-based security firm Guidepost Solutions.

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Evidence (which goes back 30 years) presented by the prosecution is rather dense, including misconduct allegations involving 19 women (seven of whom were minors at the time) and the alleged sexual abuse of a 17-year-old boy, as well as overall support to claims that Kelly led an enterprise filled with co-conspirators to recruit girls for his alleged “sex cult.” Further, Kelly’s 2008 case in Illinois—for which he was acquitted—could be reintroduced in this current trial as prosecutors allege that the R&B artist attempted to influence a juror in his favor during that previous trial.

Kelly recently appeared in court at a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, where the judge ruled that prosecutors will be allowed to present evidence to support the claim that Kelly had “sexual contact” with a then-13-year-old Aaliyah prior to the pair’s marriage in 1994. Trial is set to officially begin with opening arguments on Aug. 18.