R. Kelly’s Child-Pornography Trial: Why Has It Taken So Long?

Singer's lawyers have slowed things down, but tours, heavy caseloads and medical emergencies are partly to blame for six-year wait.

In the last six years, Michael Jackson was charged, tried and acquitted of child molestation. Phil Spector was charged and tried for murder (and due to a mistrial, he’ll have to do it all again). Lil’ Kim was charged, tried and convicted of conspiracy and perjury, and she even found time to shoot a reality show while she served her sentence.

So what’s taken R. Kelly so long? The R&B singer was charged with child pornography back in June 2002, and it’s taken until Friday (May 9) for jury selection to begin . Along the way, there have been moments when a trial seemed imminent — a trial date was even previously set for September 2007 . But something always seemed to get in the way, and that delay has only helped serve the defense — as memories fade and the alleged victim looks less like the girl on the tape and more like a grown woman.

(Look at a timeline of the events surrounding R. Kelly’s trial here .)

But the delay, a rarity in non-capital cases, is not all Kelly’s doing. Yes, his defense team had a hand in it, first and foremost because Kelly waived his right to a speedy trial. He’s always had the option to invoke that rule, which would mandate that the case begin in four months or be dropped. Instead, Kelly’s high-priced lawyers have used the wait to their advantage, filing more than 30 pre-trial motions that then had to be answered by prosecutors and argued in court.

If you got wind of any of those hearings — in one, a childhood friend of the alleged victim testified — you might have thought the trial was already taking place, what with the intensity of the arguments and the scrutiny of evidence and witnesses. But, no, they’ve just been deciding which evidence will be admissible (such as the sex tape at the heart of the case), when the tape could have been made and which expert witnesses will be allowed to testify about which subjects (forensic pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper , for example, can testify as to the age of the girl but not to her state of mind). These arguments have taken years.

The process has also been interrupted by a couple of unavoidable hiccups. Judge Vincent Gaughan fell off a ladder and broke his back in the summer of 2006. R. Kelly’s appendix burst in February 2007. The lead sex-crimes prosecutor had a baby late last summer. Then one of Kelly’s lawyers, R. Eugene Pincham, died this April.

THE R. KELLY TRIAL: IN BRIEF

Status of Trial
Jury selection began on May 9.

The Charges
Kelly faces 14 counts of child pornography — seven for directing, seven for producing.

What’s at Stake?
Kelly faces 15 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. If convicted, he’d have to register as a sex offender.

For full coverage of the ongoing R. Kelly case, see The R. Kelly Trial Reports.

Since Kelly’s trial wasn’t the only thing happening in Chicago, key people involved have had to juggle multiple caseloads. Gaughan has been presiding over the Brown’s Chicken trial, in which two men were charged of killing seven people in an eatery in 1993 (one was found guilty last May; the second is expected to stand trial this summer). Kelly’s lead attorney, Ed Genson, also had big fish on his plate: Since Kelly was indicted, Genson has also defended alleged Russian mobster Boris Stratievsky, “America’s Most Wanted” fugitive Margaret DeFrancisco (on murder charges), car-dealer Bruno Mancari (on a charge that he hired a hit man), former Illinois Governor George Ryan’s cronies Larry Warner and Scott Fawell (on corruption charges) and media mogul Conrad Black (on federal charges of obstruction of justice and mail fraud).

Often, the arguments that were scheduled to be heard in the Kelly case were tabled so that the singer could ask for permission to tour — which the court usually granted, so as not to deny him means to pay for his defense. At different points in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, people projected that the trial would start that year, only to see it pushed back again and again.

In December, Kelly missed a court date because he was still in Utah on his tour bus. At the time, the judge was furious, and threatened a bench warrant. “These are extraordinary matters to have these breaks given to you and then nobody shows up,” Gaughan said. Assistant State’s Attorney Shauna Boliker chimed in: “The leeway the court has given him to go on a 45-city tour, to do whatever he pleases … the very least he could do is be here for his appointed court date.”

Kelly will presumably be there for the trial, which appears likely to begin on Friday as scheduled . His lawyers continue to pepper the courts with requests to stay the proceedings, with one attorney, Sam Adam, asking the Illinois Appellate Court, and Genson asking Judge Gaughan directly on Wednesday . Adam’s reason is that he wasn’t officially allowed to be part of the defense team after refusing to sign a court order saying he would re-interview witnesses, while Genson’s reason is that recent publicity makes it difficult to find prospective jurors. Gaughan is expected to rule on the latter on Friday.

So, if you’re wondering what the real holdup is, blame paperwork.

Don’t miss “R. Kelly: When The Gavel Drops,” airing on Sunday, May 11, at 2 p.m. ET on MTV2.

For full coverage of the R. Kelly case, see The R. Kelly Reports.