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 "I am confident people will see that I'm no criminal."





R. Kelly: In His Own Words

 R. Kelly Reports



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— by Jennifer Vineyard

It's been more than six years since news broke about the videotape that allegedly shows R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl. The tape was a prime-time punch line for several months, and then seemingly faded into memory as the public either forgot about it, or assumed — given his ongoing success as a recording artist — that Kelly had been cleared.

Click Here To Watch "R. Kelly's Trial: When The Gavel Drops"
But the criminal charges against one of today's biggest-selling pop stars have not gone away. Kelly's not accused of just making a sex tape — he's accused of making child pornography. And if convicted, he'll face 15 years in prison.

Kelly and his lawyers have alluded to a possible defense that would suggest the singer has been set up, that he's being blackmailed by a former manager. If the tape is proven to be authentic, however, whether or not Kelly's been blackmailed wouldn't matter in a court of law. If the singer is found to have done what his accusers claim he's done — to have videotaped himself performing sexual acts with his then-14-year-old goddaughter — then he'll be guilty, period.

But how will the prosecution go about making their case? It might seem as if having the videotape would be proof enough, but the situation isn't that simple. Kelly claims that the man in the tape isn't him — and the purported victim (whose identity we won't reveal here) says the girl in the tape is not her, either, and the images on the tape are not clear enough to eliminate all doubt about the identity of the participants.

This leaves the prosecution to attempt to prove three things: that the tape is authentic (not digitally or otherwise manipulated or distorted), that R. Kelly is indeed the man in it, and that the girl in the video was under the age of 18 when the tape was made. If the state's attorneys can prove these three things beyond a reasonable doubt, in all likelihood, Kelly will be found guilty. If not, he walks. But how will they prove those things? And how might Kelly's defense attorney respond? Amid the blizzard of news reports and updates that have arisen in the six years since this story first broke, it's been easy to lose sight of the basics. This article, originally published in 2004, takes a look.

 
 
Forensic-video expert Conor McCourt explains the process: frame averaging, resizing, lightening and brightening.

 
After adjusting the contrast and brightness and sharpening the image, an earring in the man's left ear becomes clearer.

 
"This is home video. Doesn't really lend itself to morphing. This is shot on a $3 budget."

 
The Tape: Is It Authentic?

If you've seen or heard about "R. Kelly Triple-X," "Rated R. Kelly" or other such titles, you know there is more than one alleged R. Kelly sex tape making the rounds. But only one of them concerns the Chicago authorities: It's a third- or fourth-generation copy, about 27 minutes long, that allegedly shows Kelly filming himself participating in various sex acts — including fellatio, intercourse and urination — with a 14-year-old girl.

Chicago police say the FBI has authenticated this tape at the bureau's forensic lab in Quantico, Virginia. Kelly's defense team, however, insists that the tape has been doctored. Both sides are expected to call their own forensic-video experts to testify. However, dueling experts usually muddy judicial waters, and at this point, there's no telling how persuasive either side's specialists will — or won't — be.

Establishing when the tape was made — and thus establishing the age of the girl in it — will be difficult because the tape is not a "master" (original copy) and thus has no time stamp. But there are clues: For instance, songs by the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls can be heard in the background on the tape, as well as a commercial for a store that went out of business in 2000. Prosecutors will argue that those details indicate the tape was made between late 1998 and early 1999, when the girl was 14.

The fact that the tape is a duplicate also causes problems with clarity: Some of it is blurry. But with the aid of programs like Avid Xpress and dTective, video experts can isolate each frame, and then magnify or lighten key aspects that could prove revealing. Think of the scene in "Blade Runner," when Harrison Ford is searching for clues in a photograph and is able to find them by magnifying a mirror's reflection; or Naomi Watts in "The Ring," digitally manipulating a tape to open up an extra inch or two of image beyond the video frame and finding an object that wasn't previously visible. Cameras capture more image on tape than is usually seen on a television screen: Forensic video experts literally always think outside of the frame.

But while they're looking for hidden clues, the forensic video experts in this case are, of course, also considering the big picture: Could the tape have been altered? Is it possible that Kelly or the girl might have been digitally plucked from another tape and dropped into this one, the way Bill Clinton was dropped in the film "Contact," or Forrest Gump was dropped into historical footage? If that were the case, the interaction of the principals on this tape would appear slightly unnatural, according to one expert. Forensic video analyst Conor McCourt said there would also be distortion around their bodies, which would not necessarily be apparent to the naked eye but would turn up quite clearly on his sophisticated equipment.

"It's pretty evident when someone does a morphing or changing of the videotape," McCourt said. "You can see it around a person's head, and it just doesn't look natural. The person in the foreground wouldn't have the same lighting or texture, [there would be] a kind of blurred pixilation that doesn't match. It'd look like it was shot in two different places. But [in this tape], they're sitting on the furniture, they're moving around in the room. It appears to me that the objects in the video are [actually] there."


Next: Why another tape that allegedly shows R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl may not have any bearing on this case ...
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