Federal judge delays R. Kelly’s Chicago trial over coronavirus pandemic

Prosecutors last week said they wanted to delay Kelly’s October trial, arguing that the coronavirus pandemic raises logistical issues that could lead to a mistrial.

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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

A federal judge in Chicago agreed Tuesday to delay the fall trial of R&B singer R. Kelly, finding that prosecutors had raised legitimate concerns about whether the trial could proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said he would revisit the setting of a trial date in October.

Prosecutors last week said they wanted to delay Kelly’s October trial, arguing the pandemic raised several logistical issues that could cause a mistrial.

Their bid followed months of unsuccessful efforts by Kelly’s lawyers to try to free him from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. The singer faces a federal indictment here alleging child pornography and obstruction of justice. He also faces a separate indictment in Brooklyn alleging racketeering. His lawyers are due to speak to the judge in Brooklyn Wednesday. For now, Kelly is set to go on trial there Sept. 29.

Meanwhile, the feds in New York brought charges last week against associates of Kelly, pointing to separate alleged schemes to threaten, intimidate and bribe alleged Kelly victims. They also charged a Kelly manager with threatening a Manhattan theater ahead of a screening of the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly.”

Prosecutors in Chicago said they plan to call about 50 witnesses when Kelly goes to trial here. 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.

Jury selection will likely be difficult in Kelly’s hometown of Chicago, prosecutors said. 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.

One of Kelly’s co-defendants, longtime manager Derrel McDavid, has filed a speedy trial demand and suggested he could go to trial separately from Kelly if necessary. His lawyers pointed to a jury trial held at Chicago’s federal courthouse earlier this month — the first since the pandemic took hold — and said protocols used then could be used for McDavid.

During that trial, jurors were spaced across one half of a courtroom, spectators in the courtroom were extremely limited — though proceedings were shown in an overflow courtroom — and several additional safety procedures were followed.

Prosecutors countered that the earlier trial involved only six witnesses, all of whom were members of law enforcement. They said that, even if McDavid was to go to trial alone, his trial would involve at least four times as many witnesses. 

Meanwhile, Kelly’s lawyers said the singer has been “in virtual solitary confinement for over a year,” and they said members of his legal team have not been able to visit with him in person for months. 

“The only solution is to permit his temporary release,” they wrote in a court filing Monday.

Leinenweber told Kelly attorney Steve Greenberg on Tuesday that he was welcome to file a motion seeking Kelly’s release, and Greenberg said he would do so.

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