CHICAGO — "It's been one heck of a case."
R. Kelly wasn't the only one breathing a huge sigh of relief when the verdict in his child-pornography trial was read in court on Friday. Gripping the singer's hand tightly at that moment was his attorney Sam Adam Jr. Though the R&B singer had a "dream team" of sorts, with four lawyers, two associates and a law clerk at the defense table, it was 35-year-old Adam — not his father, Sam Adam Sr., nor his mentor Ed Genson — who took over the major parts of Kelly's defense and became a surrogate for Kelly himself. So MTV News pulled him aside immediately after the verdict — once the court's gag order was finally lifted — to get his assessment of how it all went down.
"Robert and I are a lot closer in age than anybody else on the team," Adam Jr. told MTV News. "And it's probably a lot to do with me being biracial, and I understand a lot of the things a little differently than the other members on the team. Robert sat there stoic throughout the trial, because he knows everyone was watching him. If he smiles, it becomes, 'He doesn't take it seriously.' If he doesn't, it's, 'He's too serious, he must be guilty.' So the best [response] that he had was to turn to me. And I was just glad to be able to give him everything I could."
So it was Adam who delivered the opening and closing arguments, both of which were very theatrical. He cross-examined witnesses who required sensitive treatment — the ones the defense didn't want to show scorn toward or treat as if they must be liars. When Kelly didn't understand or wanted to discuss what was happening, Adam was the one with whom he exchanged whispers. He was at turns larger than life and down to earth, often amusing the court with a steady stream of pop-culture references, from "The Office" to Gary Coleman to the Wayans brothers and other jokey asides. Could his likable personality have been one of the factors that helped sway the jury?
"If you like someone, you give them the benefit of the doubt," Adam said. "And to give them the pop-culture references, to do those kinds of things, will certainly make you relate with the jury much better. I tried to do it for the young kids with Dave Chappelle; I tried to do it with the middle-aged ones who were more religious — like the preacher's wife — and give her Bible verses; and I tried to do with the older ones with [1950s TV show] 'The Honeymooners' and Ralph Kramden and the 'old squeeze play.' "
So that's how Miley Cyrus found herself mentioned during the trial, with Hannah Montana tickets used as an example of how teenage girls gossip, which Adam used in closing arguments?
"Miley Cyrus woke up this morning [saying], 'Why me?!" he laughed. " 'Hannah Montana' is the biggest thing out — no offense, Robert. And to Miley, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring you up, and if you took it negatively, I'm sorry."
He also used an old Janet Jackson song, frequently employed as a street credo, as an example of how hustlers treat each other.
"That's how you gotta talk with those people," he said. "They know Janet Jackson: They know she had that famous song, 'What Have You Done for Me Lately?' They understand."
He even used an X-rated Santa Claus as an example of how Kelly must have seemed if he carried around a duffel bag of his homemade porn tapes, as witness Lisa Van Allen testified.
" 'Porno Santa Claus' — those are things that will resonate when they go back to the jury room," Adam said. "And they will say, 'You know, that was funny, but he does have a valid point there. Who runs around with a bag of porno tapes? Nobody.' Well, maybe not nobody, but certainly not Robert."
So did R. Kelly have a hand in any of these references, or approve them? "You know, you point out a good point," Adam laughed. "No, I didn't run it by him. I probably should have. Now that I think about it, I probably should have."
Among the other in-retrospect issues from the trial, Adam agreed a few things were missing — witnesses that were expected to be called who never took the stand, alleged conspirators whose part in said conspiracies were
never fleshed out. So he clarified a few things that the defense brought up, even though some questions still remain. For instance, what happened to Damon Pryor, the defense's supposed "surprise" witness who was supposed to impeach Van Allen?
"That was trial strategy," he explained. "Mr. Pryor was her — no pun intended — prior fiance. But she admitted a lot of things we thought she wouldn't: that he was a con man, that he had a federal conviction, that he interjected himself in Lil' Kim's case. There was no reason to put him on. We figured now that she's admitted these things, if we put him on, now we're vouching for his credibility, and we certainly didn't want to do that for a guy like Pryor."
What about Yul Brown, Van Allen's current fiance, who the defense claimed was trying to extort Kelly's team in order for Van Allen not to testify?
"Brown is an absolute extortionist and tried to extort me personally," Adam said. "I was upfront about that. I was angry about that. I am upset about that. I went down there and they absolutely hit me up for $350,000 that Mr. Kelly was supposed to pay. And if that's not true, what the heck happened down there? I didn't go down there to talk about the Atlanta Braves, and with the Hawks' record, you know I wasn't talking about the Hawks. I went down there to see if she would talk to me, and she wouldn't. The only thing they talk about was getting money."
What about the mysterious — or, as prosecutor Shauna Boliker called them, the "fictitious" — Chuck and Keith, who Adam Sr. had asked about in his cross-examination of Van Allen in connection to Pryor?
"My honest-to-God opinion is that they were a figment of Lisa Van Allen's imagination," Adam Jr. said. "I have never talked to a Keith. I've never seen a Keith. She tried to claim that [Kelly business manager] Derrel McDavid paid Keith [$20,000 for the return of a copy of the alleged threesome sex tape featuring Kelly, Van Allen, and the girl in question]. And I did forget this — you're only human — but I meant to mention in closing that if that were true, there'd be a bank record to prove it. Not from them, because it was cash, but from McDavid showing he took money out. And she said that Keith had kept a copy of the tape. If that was true, they would have played it."
Speaking of tapes not played in court, what about the tape private investigator Jack Palladino claimed he had made of his discussion with Van Allen and Brown, which would have proven the extortion claims?
"We asked to play the tape," Adam said, "but it was ruled that it was not allowed. But the judge did the right thing: He allowed us to get out that it was recorded, and if the state had wanted to open the door and play it to show that he was lying, you can impeach with that. But I think the point was clear: How the heck can you go up and cross-examine a man and claim he's lying when you've got a tape that shows you he's not? Either play the tape and prove it, or don't ask the questions about him lying. It's that simple."
What about people who were alluded to as part of the conspiracy to frame Kelly, but weren't called extortionists outright? The defense team attempted to include Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis and former Kelly manager Barry Hankerson in the conspiracy theories, but never outright accused either.
"Mr. DeRogatis said everything he needed to say when he said, 'I take the Fifth,'" Adam said. "If he's really interested in getting out here and making sure justice is done, you get on the stand and say what's important, and he chose not to. And I ask you to ask him to explain it." (DeRogatis, who had cited the First Amendment as well as the Fifth as his reason not to testify, said when reached by phone that his response was a lyric from one of Kelly's songs, "Been Around the World": "God gonna judge me/ The same that he judge you.")
The only person connected to the defense conspiracy theories during the trial who Adam said afterwards was actually not connected at all, but a red herring, was Hankerson, despite Kelly's previous statements about an ex-manager allegedly trying to blackmail him. "Barry Hankerson had no play in this case," Adam said. "We don't believe Barry had anything to do with this whatsoever. I can tell you, after six years of investigation, Barry Hankerson and Robert have no beef."
So now that all is said and done, Adam said that the whole team is "very ecstatic" — considering there were some moments that were touch-and-go as far as waiting out the verdict were concerned. Juror #40, for instance, had looked at Sparkle at one point in her testimony and "waved his hand and then turned away," giving Adam an indication that he had disregarded her. But when he asked to be relieved of duty on Friday, the defense team got nervous. "I thought what might have happened was he would just go back and sign any verdict [just to get it over with and go home]," Adam said. "But I was wrong, and I'm glad I was wrong. So of course we were concerned about it, but I'll take this feeling over that five minutes of nervousness any time."
"This has been wild," he added. "It's something we've been working for for six years, and to see something come together after six years of work, when we knew that that Robert was not guilty, it's just wild."