CHICAGO (Reuters) - A jury acquitted R&B star R. Kelly of child pornography charges on Friday, finding he did not make an explicit videotape showing him having sex with an underage girl who called him “godfather.”
Kelly, whose given name is Robert, cried and repeatedly whispered “thank you Jesus” after each not guilty finding was announced in the 14-count case, according to his lawyer. If found guilty, he could have faced a 15-year prison term.
The eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated about six hours over two days before delivering the verdict. The 14 counts referred to specific acts depicted in the tape.
Minutes after the verdict was announced in Cook County Criminal Court, a red-eyed Kelly, 41, strode out of the courthouse via a barricaded entrance without a word to reporters or fans screaming his name.
He waved and climbed into a sport utility vehicle with tinted windows.
Two teenage girls ran through a hallway in the venerable Chicago courthouse screaming, “He’s not guilty!”
The 26-minute videotape that was the focus of the case featured oral sex, masturbation and other explicit acts and was handed over to police by a Chicago newspaper reporter in 2002. It had circulated widely on the underground video market.
Authorities said the tape was shot at Kelly’s former Chicago home some time between January 1998 and November 2000, when the girl was 13 or 14.
“It’s a fourth-generation tape filled with all sorts of video noise where you couldn’t identify ... anything,” Kelly’s attorney Edward Genson said.
The tape was replayed in court for the jury, and the girl could be heard whispering “daddy” several times. Some of the girl’s family members testified she considered Kelly her “godfather,” and he frequently gave her cash gifts.
The girl, Roshona Landfair, sang in a group supported by the popular songwriter, singer and producer.
Neither Landfair, now 23, nor her parents testified at the three-week trial. She had previously denied she was the girl on the tape in testimony to a grand jury that indicted Kelly. Her father is a musician who has worked for Kelly.
Her absence was seen as a potential weakness for the prosecution and the defense, though both sides claimed the high ground for not having her testify.
Kelly also did not testify, and his attorneys argued that he was the victim of an extortion plot.
He has previously settled at least two civil suits involving women who said they were underage when he had sex with them. He married R&B singer Aaliyah in 1994 when she was 15, but the marriage was quickly annulled. She died in a plane crash seven years later.
Other Landfair family members testified for the defense that neither she nor Kelly were the people on the tape. A video expert said the tape could have been doctored, a claim an expert for the prosecution dismissed as impossible.
“The No. 1 thing that took hold with this jury was that it was not Roshona,” said Sam Adam, another of Kelly’s attorneys.
Some of the jurors who met with reporters agreed with that assessment, saying that while most believed Kelly appeared in the videotape, they doubted the girl’s identity.
Despite the charges lodged against him six years ago, Kelly has earned millions from concert tours and album sales while free on bond. After early 1990s hits such as “Sex Me” and “Bump n’ Grind,” Kelly won three Grammy Awards for his 1996 single “I Believe I Can Fly,” and has earned another 20 Grammy nominations.