Federal prosecutors want to push back R. Kelly’s trial in Chicago because of COVID-19

Chicago’s federal court resumed jury trials last week. But the trial of a high-profile defendant like Kelly would create additional logistical issues.

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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 Chicago want to delay the October trial of R&B singer R. Kelly, arguing that the coronavirus pandemic raises several logistical issues that could lead to a mistrial. 

The request comes one week after jury trials resumed in Chicago’s federal court, and more than a year after Kelly was ordered held in federal custody while awaiting trial. One of Kelly’s co-defendants, longtime manager Derrel McDavid, also filed a demand for a speedy trial late last month.

In a six-page filing Monday, prosecutors explained that they plan to call about 50 witnesses during Kelly’s trial. Of those, 12 or 13 live out of state. Eight or nine of those out-of-state witnesses would be traveling from states on Chicago’s coronavirus quarantine list. Some are also either in high-risk categories for COVID-19 or live with people who are high-risk.

Prosecutors said jury selection will likely be difficult in Kelly’s hometown of Chicago. They also predicted the trial would draw 34 or 36 people to a courtroom, not counting spectators. That includes jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, the defendants, the judge and other courtroom personnel who would all have to maintain proper social distance.

Many of those issues remain even if Kelly is tried separately from his co-defendants, prosecutors said. Onetime Kelly employee Milton Brown is also charged in the case.

Kelly’s lawyers have complained they can’t prepare for trial with Kelly because of restrictions at the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Kelly is being held, the feds noted. Kelly’s lawyers have been trying for months to free him, and they are now challenging his detention in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The charges against Kelly in Chicago allege child pornography and obstruction of justice. Kelly also faces a federal racketeering indictment in Brooklyn.

“We would love to go to trial,” Steve Greenberg, one of Kelly’s lawyers, told the Chicago Sun-Times after the feds made their request Monday. “We think that instead of continuing the trial, they should allow Mr. Kelly to be released so he can prepare and so it will be a fair fight.”

Chicago’s federal court resumed jury trials just last week. But social distancing protocols allow far fewer spectators in the courtroom. The trial of a high-profile defendant like Kelly would create additional logistical issues, given that it would surely draw a large crowd of media and other observers.

Kelly’s trial in Brooklyn is set to begin Sept. 29, though it’s unclear if that one will go forward, either. That trial is expected to last four weeks.

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