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Federal judge in Brooklyn will allow anonymous jury if R. Kelly goes to trial there

The R&B singer’s lawyers say they’re “shocked” by the judge’s decision, noting that anonymous juries are usually only called for “in the most extreme circumstances.”

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

A federal judge in Brooklyn agreed Thursday to keep jurors anonymous and “partially sequestered” if R&B singer R. Kelly goes to trial there, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly granted the request originally made by prosecutors back in July. Her decision was announced in a docket entry in Kelly’s case, though the order itself appeared to be sealed.

Kelly also faces federal charges in Chicago, but it appears likely he’ll go to trial first on a racketeering indictment in Brooklyn. In July, prosecutors out east told the judge the evidence in their case could lead jurors to believe Kelly is “capable of inflicting violence.”

They pointed to the anticipated media coverage of the trial, as well as allegations that Kelly obstructed justice in his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County.

Kelly attorney Michael Leonard said the singer’s legal team was “shocked” by the judge’s decision, noting that anonymous juries are usually only called for “in the most extreme circumstances.”

“We’re really surprised that the judge would order such extreme measures for somebody like (Kelly), who has no criminal history,” Leonard said.

In a letter to the judge this summer, Leonard asked that the names of potential jurors be made available to Kelly’s legal team and prosecutors. He wrote, “Mr. Kelly and his counsel are not requesting that those names be made available to Mr. Kelly as well — even though there is no legitimate reason not to do so.”

Prosecutors have said they want to keep the identities of all prospective jurors — including their names, addresses and places of employment — hidden from Kelly and the attorneys throughout the trial. They also want 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.”

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.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn allege 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.

No trial date is currently set in either case. Donnelly told attorneys during a hearing last month that she anticipated a trial in January, but Kelly’s attorneys asked her to hold off on setting a date.