With just over a week until jury selection, R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago is shaping up to be a hot-blooded, bare-knuckle legal brawl.
A barrage of last-minute filings from attorneys representing Kelly and his two co-defendants showed little hesitation in bringing new fights to the fore – a far more aggressive approach than the legal team that defended Kelly during his trial last year in New York.
At issue in recent requests: the allegedly “mysterious, clandestine and totally inappropriate” communications of a prosecutor with possible witnesses. A request for additional information about a minor victim that was made public, then quickly sealed. A longtime Chicago reporter who was subpoenaed as a potential witness.
Meanwhile, about 100 potential jurors are expected to appear at Dirksen’s US courthouse in about a week.
Kelly, 55, was charged in July 2019 with conspiring with her former business manager, Derrel McDavid, and another associate, Milton “June” Brown, to fake his 2008 Cook County child pornography case and hide years of alleged sexual abuse of underage girls. The trial is scheduled to begin August 15 and will likely last at least a month.
On Friday morning, McDavid’s lawyers filed documents with new allegations about Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull, one of the lead prosecutors in the case until 2020, when it was moved to another district. from the US Attorney’s office. Sources told the Tribune that she left Chicago to be closer to an ailing relative.
Prosecutors have asked until Tuesday to respond to the allegations.
McDavid’s attorneys allege Krull had inappropriate communications with a central witness in the case: the victim at the center of several child pornography tapes set to be played for jurors at trial. The victim, who is now an adult, is expected to testify that she was the underage girl in the videos and that she lied about it to investigators at the behest of Kelly and her associates.
Krull saved the woman’s number to his contacts as “Boss Baby” and texted her about an after-hours meeting. And an investigator sent Krull selfies showing the woman’s pregnancy and Krull then complimented the woman on her appearance, saying she was “beautiful” and “brilliant”, according to McDavid’s attorneys.
The behavior was “extremely familiar and eerily personal in a way that simply does not meet the professional standards of the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” the attorneys alleged. There were also meetings and phone calls between the two women that were not recorded in the reports, a procedural error that McDavid said could violate the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the Chicago reporter who helped break the news of Kelly’s alleged sexual misconduct more than two decades ago has been subpoenaed as a possible witness at trial, according to McDavid’s attorneys. Jim DeRogatis also communicated with Krull early in the case, although Krull for some reason used an email with the alias “Demetrius Slovenski”.
DeRogatis previously told the Tribune that he reached out to Krull first, in an unsuccessful attempt to cultivate her as a source. In court earlier this week, prosecutors insisted that DeRogatis was not considered a potential government witness. McDavid’s attorneys confirmed in a court filing on Friday that DeRogatis was subpoenaed to testify at trial, presumably by McDavid’s attorneys.
DeRogatis, then a music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, received the sex tape at the center of the Kelly affair in 2002 from an unknown sender. He was also called to the stand at R. Kelly’s first trial six years later; he refused to answer questions, citing reporter’s privilege and the First and Fifth Amendments.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s attorneys filed documents Friday alleging prosecutors asked clerks to seal a motion that would paint one of their witnesses in an unflattering light. The defense motion, still under seal, requested more information about the potential illegal activities of one of the victims in the case, according to Friday’s filing.
Prosecutors responded that they were obligated to keep the file private because it “referred to a minor victim who is not publicly known and whose identity could be determined” by the information in the motion. They told Kelly’s lawyers they thought it should be filed under seal and warned that if it was filed publicly they would get it back under seal until a judge could settle the matter. When Kelly’s attorneys filed it publicly, prosecutors moved “within minutes” to remove it from the public record, according to their response.
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Kelly’s trial in Chicago follows his conviction in federal court in Brooklyn. In June, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering. He is appealing the jury’s verdict and the judge’s sentence.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Harry Leinenweber revealed that a group of 100 potential jurors would arrive at Dirksen’s US courthouse next week to fill out questionnaires ahead of jury selection – an attempt to weed out jurors ineligible or potentially biased prior to any questioning in court. . All of the jurors who have shown up have already indicated they could sit through a lengthy trial.
Despite objections from defense attorneys, Leinenweber decided that the names, occupations, and other identifying information of the jurors would not be released to the public. Prosecutors said they fear die-hard Kelly fans will harass jurors if their identities are revealed. Defense attorneys said jurors might get the idea that they should fear for their safety, which could bias them against the defendants.
Leinenweber noted that there is, in fact, “a fairly large group of people … quite active in voicing their disagreement with (Kelly’s) treatment”, and therefore the identities of the jurors would remain hidden. But in an effort to address defense concerns, Leinenweber said he will tell jurors they are anonymous just so the media won’t contact them.
The trial is the largest to take place since the pandemic began at the federal courthouse in Chicago, where numerous COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, including masks for anyone not speaking in court, frequent COVID testing for jurors, witnesses and attorneys, and strict social distancing guidelines.
To accommodate all parties, the trial is being held in the popular 25th floor large courtroom. In fact, Leinenweber insisted on Wednesday that the trial could last no longer than a month, since another trial is scheduled to begin in the ceremonial room at the end of September.
“We’re going to do it in four weeks, come hell or high tide,” Leinenweber said. “I have a reputation for moving a case forward.”