CHICAGO — Another day, another R. Kelly headline, with the next one more salacious than the last.
But when the Chicago Sun-Times' front-page headline on Friday (May 9) alleged that the singer had paid a woman to return a sex tape, just as jury selection was finally starting in Kelly's child-pornography trial, his lawyers cried foul — because that information was supposed to be sealed.
Outside the courthouse, small groups of supporters and protesters shouted alternately, "R. Kelly is innocent!" and "R. Kelly is the world's greatest pedophile!" — one with a megaphone. And once inside the courtroom, Kelly looked like he wanted to hide, originally sitting in the fourth row of the court gallery, until the judge reminded him that he belonged at the defense table.
As Kelly wiped his face, looking worried, one of his attorneys asked the judge once again to delay the trial, investigate the leak, and appoint a special prosecutor to "remedy" the damage done to the prospective jury pool. "This is not the subject of the indictment, this is not the subject of the evidence, this is not part of anything I've ever seen," Kelly attorney Marc Martin told the court. "It's misleading, and the wrong conclusions could be drawn. This is a witness the state does not have, so there's no way to respond. The jury has been irreparably poisoned."
Kelly's attorney accused the newspaper of trying to sabotage the singer, pointing out that it was the Sun-Times that was the "impetus for this prosecution," since the paper had handed the sex tape at the heart of the case over to the police in 2002. "This article is playing chicken with the court," Martin said. "And someone out there is trying to sabotage Robert Kelly's right to a fair trial."
Since the information from the Sun-Times' recent spate of articles came out of four closed hearings this spring where there were very few people present — essentially the lawyers for both sides and the judge — Martin said whoever leaked the information should be found in contempt of court and banned from the trial. At one point, when a reporter from the Sun-Times was called to the bench, court observers thought he was about to be reprimanded or asked to reveal his source, but no — the judge just wanted to work out some media-coverage logistics for the jury selection.
Judge Vincent Gaughan denied the defense request for a delay but put off ruling on the request for a special prosecutor to be appointed later. "We don't know the effect the articles may have had," he said, "It's premature, but we have to be flexible. If it comes up [during questioning of prospective jurors], that might be the basis [for a delay]."
To see if the article (or any other issues) would be a problem, jury selection began soon after the brief motions hearing, with 150 prospective jurors showing up to hear the indictment and fill out a preliminary questionnaire. Judge Gaughan introduced the singer to the jury pool as "Robert Kelly," at which point Kelly stood, bowed his head, and said, "Hello," giving them a brief smile, according to NBC sketch artist Verna Sadock, who was the only member of the media allowed to be present for that moment. "He looked very relaxed," she said, "but also very serious. He was rubbing his eyes a lot."
Some reporters were upset that the beginning of jury selection was not made public, as they had been told it would be, and when an ABC reporter asked the judge afterward why they had not been allowed back in the room, Judge Gaughan tersely reminded him that according to the court decorum order, no interviews were to be conducted in the courtroom.
The court is looking to seat 12 jurors and four alternates, and questioning begins Monday.
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.