As R. Kelly Trial Finally Begins, Meet The Key Players In The Courtroom

We offer insight into the judge, prosecution and defense behind the long-delayed child-pornography trial.

CHICAGO — You already know the defendant . You already know the jury . But who are the major players in R. Kelly’s child-pornography trial, which starts with opening arguments Tuesday? And what effect will their backgrounds and experience have on the case? Here’s a look at the judge, prosecution and defense.

The Judge

THE R. KELLY TRIAL: IN BRIEF

Status of Trial
Opening arguments begin on May 20

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.

Judge Vincent Gaughan, 66, can be a tough guy when it comes to presiding over his courtroom. He has already jailed one observer for contempt of court after she snapped a picture of R. Kelly on her cell phone. He has admonished Kelly on several occasions, for failing to call his probation officer one of the first times the singer was allowed outside the jurisdiction and for failing to show up to court for a hearing last December. (Gaughan ordered him to cancel a concert date to ensure his appearance at the makeup hearing date. )

But he’s not a Scrooge. Over the past six years, he’s given Kelly a number of breaks, allowing him out of the jurisdiction and to perform concert tours in the first place and not revoking his bond and jailing him whenever the singer goofed up.

Some might argue that those many tours delayed the trial . However, when potential jurors referred to the delay during the jury-selection process, Gaughan was quick to tell them that the delay was partly his fault, as he fell off a ladder trying to fix a skylight in July 2006 and broke his shoulder, leg, seven ribs and four vertebrae. Gaughan got right back to work soon after he recovered, presiding over a major murder trial known locally as Brown’s Chicken — in which one defendant was sentenced to life in prison for a 1993 massacre at a fast-food eatery (the second defendant goes to trial next year). Much of the courtroom procedure in the Kelly trial has been adopted from the Brown’s Chicken courtroom experience, as well as the Michael Jackson trial. Gaughan consulted with California court officials to make sure the R. Kelly trial didn’t become as much of a media circus.

Gaughan has kept publicity to a minimum (including keeping some hearings closed and some documents sealed, at least until the conclusion of the trial), which could prevent the singer from having a fair trial. He denied a request from the press to lift the court decorum order, which bars lawyers and witnesses from discussing the case with the media, but tries to make light of it. When one reporter grabbed a soda intended for prospective jurors, he joked, “You can drink it, but you can’t talk to it!”

Gaughan, who earned a Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam, has also been quick to thank prospective jurors with military backgrounds for serving their country.

The Prosecution

Assistant State’s Attorney Shauna Boliker, 48, doesn’t act like any stereotypical prosecutor you might see on “Law & Order” or other courtroom dramas. She’s sunny and friendly, despite her draining work in Cook County’s Sex Crimes Division, which she’s headed since 2003, where she’s responsible for all crimes of sexual assault, child pornography, Internet solicitation and clergy abuse.

One of Boliker’s last big cases (of the 75 trials she’s prosecuted) involved Catholic priest Daniel McCormack, who pleaded guilty to molesting five boys in his parish when Boliker reached an agreement with him to serve a lesser sentence of five years in order to spare the victims from having to testify. That case came up during the R. Kelly jury-selection process, as a prospective juror turned out to be a teacher’s assistant at the very school McCormack’s victims attended. Boliker picked up on the connection but kept the juror anyway.

When explaining some of the delays in R. Kelly’s trial, Judge Gaughan also told prospective jurors that one factor was Boliker having a baby last August . At one point in between jurors, a blushing Boliker asked the judge to not mention her last pregnancy quite so much. “Why?” he asked in surprise. “When you have children as wonderful as yours?” (She has three sons.) Boliker had planned to go to work immediately after a very short maternity leave, but her doctor ordered bed rest just three weeks before the trial was set to start.

Boliker made local headlines for changing her own flat tire — despite being eight months pregnant — en route to the criminal courthouse in the 95-degree heat last summer. And during the course of one murder trial, a tooth flew out of her mouth during closing arguments, yet despite the missing tooth, she continued — and won the case.

Joining her at the prosecution table will be fellow Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Heilingoetter.

The Defense

Kelly’s lead attorney is Ed Genson, 66, who is a man of contradictions. He’s known as the guy celebrities, politicians and alleged mobsters — from Shia LaBeouf to former Congressman Mel Reynolds to media mogul Conrad Black — call when they’re in trouble in Chicago, but he’s not known for always winning.

One client, Frank Caruso Jr. (from alleged crime family the Rotis), was convicted of aggravated battery and sentenced to eight years (later reduced to two). Another client, former state Senator John D’Arco, was found guilty on extortion and bribery charges. Black is doing time for obstruction of justice and mail fraud. And Reynolds, who was up on charges of sexual misconduct and child pornography in 1995 (Genson’s only other case prior to Kelly’s involving a sex crime), was convicted and sentenced to five years.

Thanks to the neuromuscular disorder dystonia, Genson arrives to the courtroom on a motorized scooter. He uses a cane to walk around, his head and hands shake, and he stammers when he talks. And yet, this works to his advantage in a courtroom (he once said that he purposely uses his disability to gain sympathy from the jury but later tried to take back the statement). A king at cross-examination, Genson catches people off-guard with what appears to be a disorganized, bumbling personality and then turns on a dime to reveal a sharp mind. He often asks his questions while sitting down on a stool.

Joining Genson at the defense table are attorneys Marc Martin, Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr. And during jury selection, they were joined by jury consultant J. Lee Meihls, who worked for the defense during the Michael Jackson trial. Is this a dream team? Only time will tell.

Look at a complete timeline of the events leading up to R. Kelly’s trial here .

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