A full nine years after Chicago police began an investigation stemming from allegations that R&B singer R. Kelly [real name Robert Sylvester Kelly] had sex with an underage girl, the trial is finally ready to begin this week.
Kelly, age 41, was indicted on multiple counts of child pornography in June 2002, but due to a series of delays [click to read] the trial has been put off for years.
Now the court has set a date to begin the trial on this Friday, May 9, which many expect will be adhered to. However, the Illinois Supreme Court has denied news organization requests seeking to unseal court documents and proceedings in the R&B legend’s child pornography case.
In a two-sentence ruling issued today, the Supreme Court denied the news outlets’ motion for a supervisory order. The court gave no explanation.
Last month, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press objected to the to secrecy measures imposed by presiding Judge Vincent Gaughan. The judge has held four hearings that were closed to the public, put numerous documents under seal, and even imposed a “decorum order” barring lawyers in the case from speaking about the what has transpired behind the closed doors of the courtroom.
“Records and proceedings in the Kelly case have not only been sealed, but also sealed without any judicial findings with respect to the reasons for secrecy,” the news organizations’ lawyers wrote in asking the Supreme Court to issue a supervisory order.
But defense lawyers objected, claiming that releasing the secret information could rob Kelly of a fair trial.
Kelly‘s alleged involvement with underage girls dates back to the 1990s when he secretly married his then 15-year-old protege, Aaliyah, when he was 27. They falsified the marriage license to state that Aaliyah was 18 at the time of the marriage and therefore did not require parental consent to marry. After the public discovery of the marriage, Aaliyah‘s parents quickly had the union annulled in court. The singer has since died in a plane crash in 2001, but unconfirmed reports claim old love letters between the two during their romance may be admitted to court as evidence against Kelly.
But after the marriage annulment to Aaliyah, Kelly‘s alleged proclivity for the pubescent didn’t end there. At least three other women have filed civil lawsuits stating they had sex with Kelly before turning 17 (all which were settled out of court), and a fourth reached an out-of-court settlement with the singer without filing suit.
In 1996 a Chicago teen filed a lawsuit against Kelly claiming she began a sexual relationship with him when she was only 15, participating in group sex with other minors on more than one occasion. Their relationship ended around the time she turned 18, and shortly after Kelly denied his promises to help her with a music career, according to the lawsuit. The case was settled out of court shortly after the woman gave a deposition with shocking details of the singer’s bedroom behaviors.
In 2001, a college student filed a lawsuit claiming her sexual activities with Kelly also began when she was underage. The suit, which also was settled out of court, also described Kelly as a perverted manipulator of children who made empty promises of jobs in the music industry.
In 2002, a Chicago woman filed a lawsuit claiming Kelly forced her to have an abortion when she was a teenager. The two started a sexual relationship in 1999, a month after meeting after the then-16-year-old girl’s prom, according to the suit. That case, like the others, was settled. No criminal charges were filed in connection with the allegations.
Kelly also was arrested on child pornography charges in Florida in 2003. However, the case was dropped after a judge ruled authorities illegally seized the digital photos from his Orlando home.
Because of the settlements, despite being accused of statutory rape numerous times, Kelly has never been charged with inappropriate conduct with a minor before now. This time around, there is visual evidence in the form of the infamous leaked sex tape in which he can be seen, among other sexual acts, urinating on what appears to be an underage girl.
But the the high-profile case will be missing a vital component of most criminal prosecutions: A victim. The girl, now age 23, believed to be in the videotape is denying any involvement, according to the Chicago Tribune. Because of that, prosecutors must face the challenge of discrediting the alleged victim as a liar. They must prove that because the sex on the videotape seemed to be (illegally) consensual, the girl has motive to lie– she doesn’t feel as if their sexual relationship was in any way “wrong” and therefore doesn’t want Kelly to face legal repercussions. Court documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune also suggest she may testify on Kelly‘s behalf during the trial, a move could make for an even more difficult prosecution.
However, prosecutors are expected to introduce a key witness in the trial who will testify that she, Kelly and the alleged victim engaged in a menage a trois on at least one occasion, and that the girl was indeed under the age of consent. According to prosecutors, the girl was as young as 13 sometime between Jan. 1, 1998, and Nov. 1, 2000, when the tape was made.
Lawyers for the news organizations will appear before Judge Gaughan on Thursday (May 8) to argue that the documents involving the new-witness’ testimony should be unsealed and transcripts of the closed proceedings should be provided.