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Feds in New York want anonymous jury when R. Kelly goes to trial there

It’s a move that is typically reserved for mob, terrorism or street gang cases.

R. Kelly walks out of the Daley Center after an appearance in child support court in March 2019.
R. Kelly walks out of the Daley Center after an appearance in child support court in March 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn want to take the rare step of putting R&B singer R. Kelly on trial in front of an anonymous jury, arguing in part the evidence will likely lead jurors to believe Kelly is “capable of inflicting violence.”

They also pointed in a court filing Wednesday to the anticipated media coverage of the trial — which is sure to be intense — as well as allegations Kelly obstructed justice in his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County.

Steve Greenberg, one of Kelly’s defense attorneys, told the Chicago Sun-Times there are parts of the prosecutors’ request he agrees with, including a limited sequestration that would shield jurors “from the prejudicial outside influences of the #MeToo movement.” But he said other parts of the request are “ridiculous.”

“To suggest that (Kelly) may harm a juror because there are allegations that he may have engaged in domestic violence is, frankly, insulting,” Greenberg said. “It’s insulting and illogical.”

Anonymous juries are typically reserved for mob, terrorism or street gang cases. The 2016 trial in Chicago of the Hobos street gang — a case that involved the murder of a federal informant — played out before an anonymous jury. So did the “Family Secrets” mob trial in 2007.

Kelly, who as of this weekend will have spent a full year in government custody, faces federal indictments in Chicago and Brooklyn. The case in Brooklyn, where prosecutors are asking for an anonymous jury, involves charges of racketeering and illegal sexual activity. Prosecutors there say Kelly led an “enterprise” made up of his managers, bodyguards, drivers and other employees who helped him recruit women and girls for sex.

The Chicago case alleges child pornography and obstruction of justice involving the 2008 trial. Kelly’s attorneys have said they’d prefer to go to trial in Brooklyn first, where the case is set to go forward Sept. 29. His federal trial in Chicago is set for Oct. 13. It’s unclear if those dates will hold, given the coronavirus pandemic.

Kelly has tried repeatedly to get out of jail amid the pandemic, and he has most recently taken his request to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He has been held in Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional since his arrest in July 2019.

The Brooklyn prosecutors say they want to keep the identities of all prospective jurors — including their names, addresses and places of employment — hidden from Kelly and the attorneys during his trial there. They also want the jurors to eat lunch together and be accompanied in and out of the courthouse by the U.S. Marshals Service “so that they do not mingle in the courthouse with the public or any potential trial spectator.”

In addition to the expected media coverage and allegations that Kelly interfered with his 2008 child pornography trial, prosecutors wrote that Kelly “is likely to be perceived as dangerous.”

“Multiple witnesses will testify that (Kelly) physically and violently assaulted them when they broke one of (Kelly’s) ‘rules,’” prosecutors wrote. They added, “the fact that jurors are aware that their identities are publicly known may subtly and unconsciously impair their impartiality.”

In addition to calling that argument “insulting,” Greenberg said, “to suggest that Mr. Kelly isn’t allowed to know basic information about the jurors is absurd.”

“We have to know who these people are,” Greenberg said.