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Indictment to accuse R&B superstar singer of violating child pornography laws

First published June 5, 2002: Prosecutors have a videotape sent anonymously to the Sun-Times appearing to show R. Kelly committing various sex acts with a 14-year-old girl.

Chicago Police Supt. Terry G. Hillard and Cook County State’s Attorney Richard A. Devine announce on Wednesday afternoon that they have filed charges against Robert Kelly, more commonly known as R. Kelly, for engaging 21 counts of child pornography on June 5, 2002. This is not the original photo that accompanied this story.
Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

This article originally appeared as written in the June 5, 2002 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.

A grand jury indictment will be announced today against R. Kelly, accusing the chart-topping R&B superstar of violating child pornography laws, sources told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have a videotape sent anonymously to the Sun-Times appearing to show R. Kelly committing various sex acts with a 14-year-old girl.

State law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography or soliciting a minor to participate in sex acts on tape or film.

The Class 1 felony charge carries a prison term of up to 15 years, and a fine of up to $100,000.

For more than three years Chicago police investigated charges that Kelly was having a sexual relationship with the then-14-year-old daughter of an associate. But the girl and her parents denied the allegations.

The Sun-Times reported the investigation in a December 2000 story about Kelly’s pattern of pursuing underage girls for sex.

The big break in the case came in February when a videotape was sent anonymously to the Sun-Times. Kelly apparently made the tape of himself engaging in various sex acts—including acts involving urination with the underage girl.

The tape was turned over to the sex crimes unit of the Chicago Police. Kelly has denied having sex with underage girls and maintained in a recent TV interview that he’s not the man on the tape.

Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine impaneled a grand jury that heard dozens of witnesses identify Kelly and the teen on the tape and confirm that they had a sexual relationship.

The tape was authenticated by the FBI, which determined it could not have been a forgery. Bootleg copies of the video are available for sale on street corners across the country—$10 for VHS, $15 for DVD.

In recent years, Kelly has paid settlements to three young women who filed lawsuits or threatened to sue him over underage or coerced sexual relationships. A fourth woman has filed suit claiming Kelly coerced her into a sexual relationship when she was a minor, and he coaxed her to have an abortion. That case is pending.

Yet another lawsuit was filed by a 33-year-old dancer who charges that she was unknowingly videotaped by Kelly during sexual relations. That case also is pending.

Kelly has responded to the lawsuits by trying to tarnish the women’s reputations. Before Tiffany Hawkins filed a suit she ultimately settled against Kelly, charging that he coaxed her to participate in group sex with him when she was 15, Kelly filed a preemptive suit against her for blackmail. That suit was dismissed.

Front page of the Chicago Sun-Times on June 5, 2002.
The front page of the Chicago Sun-Times on June 5, 2002.
From the Sun-Times archive

This week, copies of rap sheets for minor misdemeanors that Kelly’s other accusers purportedly have been charged with have been sent anonymously to local news outlets.

Kelly is hardly the first celebrity to be accused of taking advantage of young girls. Gary Glitter, Rob Lowe, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roman Polanski, Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and even the legendary Errol Flynn all have been the subject of news reports for allegedly having trysts with minors.

Chicago police interviewed dozens of people who knew Kelly, the girl in the tape or both. Because the girl and her parents denied it was her, police and prosecutors reportedly had to build the case against Kelly around them.

While police and other family members who were cooperating with the investigation grew impatient for prosecutors to charge Kelly, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office took months, it said, trying to make sure it had an ironclad case.

Prosecutors were haunted by a case 14 years ago, when they had a similarly uncooperative witness who had been taped having sex with a man when she was underage. Prosecutors charged him anyway, and he was acquitted.

Since then, the state’s attorney’s office has adopted a more aggressive stand. In 1995, Beverly Heard refused to testify that she and U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds had sex when she was 16. They put her in jail for 13 days, until she agreed to testify. Reynolds was convicted.

In recent TV interviews, Kelly insisted that, despite the controversy over the video purporting to show him having sex with a minor, he never felt compelled to seek out or watch one of the many bootleg copies of the tape.

“If people out there have a tape of me and they’re saying it’s me and a young girl, a minor . . . then they’re sadly mistaken or they’re lying,” Kelly said on BET. “I can say it with all confidence right here that it isn’t me because I didn’t do it. Nowadays, you can make a tape, you can make a song; it can sound like a person or look like a person . . . but that’s not me.”

He did not explain how a 26-minute tape in which the protagonist is seen staring into the camera and adjusting it could be faked, a feat video experts have told the Sun-Times would be difficult even for a major movie studio to pull off.

As the accusations against Kelly have mounted and the videotape of him has circulated across the country, his fellow hip-hop artists have distanced themselves from him. “Thong Song” singer Sisqo’s new track, “This Is the Heart,” offers the lyric, “The World’s Greatest? Whatever! Ain’t nothing but a child molester.”

Kelly’s album with rapper Jay-Z, “The Best of Both Worlds,” sold far less than expected when it was released in April. Industry executives blamed the scandal. Jay-Z refused to tour, make videos or even be photographed with Kelly after the police probe was disclosed.

Rapper Nas recently told an L.A. audience, “We’re not up here molesting children. We’re not ‘The Best of Both Worlds.’ “

Multiplatinum producer Dr. Dre has decided not to release a track with Kelly. Dr. Dre was quoted in the British newspaper New Nation as saying, “I haven’t seen the video, nor do I want to see it because there’s a kid involved. That’s where I draw the line. You can do almost anything except touch kids or something like that. That’s a no-no. You know what I’m saying? If he’s guilty, he’s over. I’m just waiting for the results.”

Ministers and community activists in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles have decried Kelly’s behavior and urged boycotts of stores that sell his albums and radio stations that play his music.