CHICAGO - A Cook County jury on Friday acquitted R&B superstar R. Kelly of child pornography charges, marking the end of a high-profile trial rich in courtroom drama and celebrity intrigue.
The 41-year-old singer, whose real name is Robert Kelly, long denied charges that he videotaped himself engaging in a variety of sex acts with his then-underage goddaughter.
Authorities said the female in the video could have been as young as 13 at the time. The jury of nine men and three women deliberated for 7 ½ hours before finding Kelly not guilty on all 14 counts.
“R Kelly was found not guilty because they had the best jury that Cook County could produce,” said Kelly’s attorney Sam Adam Jr. “Two things happened today. R. Kelly got his name back and (his goddaughter) never had to lose hers,” Adam said.
Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine called the case unusual because the alleged victim denied being the woman in the video. Sometimes, the community has to press forward with the cases, anyway, Devine said.
“If we acquire the same evidence today or tomorrow, we will bring that case,” he said.
Kelly prayed in the courtroom in the moments before the verdict was announced.
As the verdicts kept coming in, each count not guilty, Adam said he heard Kelly saying “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
On the courthouse steps outside, Ieshi Agee, 25, stood with her three young boys to await the verdict. They cheered as Kelly walked out.
“I knew he wasn’t guilty!” Agee screamed.
Kelly left the courtroom surrounded by his entourage, who kept reporters away from the singer and escorted him to a waiting sport-utility vehicle as some 50 supporters shouted support to him.
Though Kelly did not speak to reporters, he did salute and wave to fans.
Allan Mayer, a Kelly spokesman, said, “Robert has asked me to speak on his behalf for now. Robert has said all along that he believes in our system, and he believes in God. And that when all the facts came out in court, he’d be cleared of these terrible charges.
“He did not expect that it would take 6 ½ years. It’s been a terrible ordeal for him and his family, and at this point all he wants to do is move forward and try to put it behind him. He wants to thank his lawyers who defended him so brilliantly. He wants to thank his fans who stuck by him and supported him with such love.
“Most of all, he wants to thank God for giving him the strength to get through this. He’s going to have more to say about all of this very soon. But for right now, he’d be more inclined to be with his family, collect himself and get strong again. But we’ll be hearing from him soon about all of this.
“Again, he thanks everyone for their support, and he thanks our system of justice for seeing him through. And he thanks God for his strength and his love.”
The spokesman declined to take questions.
Kelly’s SUV drove to Douglas Park on Chicago’s West Side, where a tour bus was waiting for him and his entourage. There, Kelly, his entourage and his defense team exchanged hugs and handshakes.
Before entering the bus, Kelly shook hands with a woman who pulled up in a van and hugged several female fans, who had been screaming upon his arrival to the park.
The verdict ends a bizarre case that had languished for nearly six years. During almost four weeks of testimony, the jury heard about three-person sexual encounters and watched a sex tape in which the male participant is seen urinating on a female.
Neither the alleged victim, now 23, nor her parents testified during the trial. All three denied her involvement in the tape to a grand jury in 2002.
Without their cooperation, the prosecution used other witnesses to describe the relationship Kelly shared with his goddaughter - an aspiring rapper who witnesses said became a member of his entourage while in junior high school. She often visited him at his downtown recording studio or watched him play basketball at a Chicago gym, they testified.
Only one witness testified to having direct knowledge of an inappropriate relationship between Kelly and the alleged victim. Lisa Van Allen told the jury she engaged in a series of sexual encounters with the singer and his goddaughter when the girl was a minor.
The defense tried to undermine Van Allen’s testimony by accusing her of concocting the story to extort money from Kelly. Van Allen, who lives in Georgia, called prosecutors with information about the case shortly after her fiance was arrested on guns and weapons charges.
Kelly’s attorneys contended the young woman in the tape is not the alleged victim but a prostitute. They called three family members of the alleged victim who testified that they saw no resemblance between their relative and the female in the video.
Kelly also did not testify. Without testimony from him or his alleged victim, the singer’s attorneys built their case around a caterpillar-shape mole along his spine. They argued that the man in the recording has an unblemished back, meaning Kelly couldn’t be the man in the video.
If you don’t see the mole, the defense told the jury, then Kelly cannot be convicted. Kelly’s attorneys also suggested the 27-minute tape had been doctored, going so far as to say someone could have edited the singer’s head onto another man’s body. A prosecution expert testified such editing trickery would take 44 years and still would be obvious to viewers.
The defense team was ecstatic with the verdict, calling it a major victory for an innocent man.
Ed Genson, Kelly’s lead attorney, said he has “graduated from late middle age to senior citizen on this case. Now I am going to get a little sleep.” Sitting beside him at a table speaking to the media was Adam Jr., who traded compliments with Genson.
Adam said the entire case was won because of Genson and his legal strategy. Genson said Adam “gave one of the best closing arguments I have ever heard.” Genson called the legal team the best he has worked with in his legal career.
“The evidence won the case, and we put together the best trial team I have seen in 43 years of practicing law,” Genson said.
The drawn-out legal battle has not slowed Kelly’s music career. He has released five albums and a greatest-hits collection since he was indicted in 2002. He also has completed several concert tours.
(Tribune reporters Azam Ahmed, Kayce Ataiyero, Jeff Coen, Monique Garcia, Jeremy Gorner, James Janega and Angela Rozas contributed to this report.)