Jury of 8 women, 4 men selected to decide R. Kelly’s fate in latest Chicago trial

The group includes three Black jurors federal prosecutors sought to keep off the panel. They were restored to the jury after defense attorneys accused the feds of improperly striking them based on race.

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R. Kelly walks into the Daley Center in Chicago for a hearing in a child support case in March 2019.

R. Kelly walks into the Daley Center in Chicago for a hearing in a child support case in March 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

A jury of eight women and four men has been chosen to hear the federal criminal case against R&B superstar R. Kelly in Chicago, a group that includes three jurors federal prosecutors sought to keep off the panel.

The three jurors, who are Black, were restored to the jury after defense attorneys accused the feds of improperly striking them based on race.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that prosecutors had not given a sufficient explanation for striking those jurors, and he added them to the panel. In the end, the group was evenly split between Black and white jurors, based on courtroom observations.

They are now set to hear opening statements Wednesday, which are expected to last at least three hours. The trial’s first witness will then likely be called.

R. Kelly Chicago Trial

Full coverage of R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago:

Among the jurors is a retired administrative assistant at an insurance company, an attorney and a woman who said NPR is her go-to news source. Another woman said her children are lawyers — one is a prosecutor, and the other is a defense attorney.

That woman also said her brother told her if she watched the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” she’d probably get tossed from the jury, prompting laughter in the courtroom Monday. She said she had not watched it, but at least four of the jurors said they had seen at least part of the series.

Another said he didn’t, but his “family was pretty invested in it.”

When asked to provide race-neutral reasons for striking certain Black jurors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng said one was falling asleep during the questioning, another said she turned off “Surviving R. Kelly” because she found it upsetting, and the last said he had a daughter who had been sexually assaulted but said he could be impartial.

Kelly’s defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean said Appenteng had failed to mention the dozing juror earlier, and the other reasons suggested the jurors were biased against the defense, not the prosecution.

“If you were to accept the government’s position, they are more concerned about Mr. Kelly’s rights than we are,” Bonjean said.

Leinenweber had hoped to choose a jury in time to hear opening statements Tuesday. However, jury selection wound up grinding late into Tuesday afternoon. The judge’s timeline seemed tenuous even early on, when a middle-aged Black woman being questioned for the jury collapsed after having what the judge later called a spell.

Though it made for a scary moment in the courtroom, the woman appeared to be conscious and talking before leaving. She was dismissed from the jury pool.

Kelly, 55, is already serving a 30-year prison sentence for his racketeering conviction last year in New York. Now, he faces charges of child pornography, obstruction of justice and the enticement of minors into criminal sexual activity.

Also facing trial with Kelly are two former employees, Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown. McDavid is charged along with Kelly in an obstruction-of-justice conspiracy. The charges allege McDavid helped Kelly cheat his way to an acquittal during his 2008 state-court trial in Cook County on child pornography charges.

Though the alleged victim in that 2008 trial did not testify, she is now expected to take the stand in Chicago’s federal court and say she and members of her family were intimidated into denying Kelly had been sexually abusing her.

Brown is charged along with McDavid and Kelly in a child pornography conspiracy.

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