CHICAGO (Reuters) - Jurors and spectators in a darkened courtroom watched a graphic video on Tuesday showing what prosecutors contend is R&B star R. Kelly in a sexual encounter with an underage girl.
But lawyers defending the Grammy Award-winning artist said the 26-minute tape shows neither Kelly nor the girl they allege was his victim, and where the video came from remains a mystery.
The tape featuring oral sex and other acts drew little noticeable response from the jurors who will decide if the musician, whose given name is Robert Kelly, is guilty of 14 counts of videotaping, producing and soliciting child pornography — charges that could land him in prison for up to 15 years.
On the tape, which prosecutors say was made in Chicago between January 1998 and November 2000 when the girl was 13 or 14, the face of the man alleged to be Kelly is visible only a few times but he can be seen handing the girl money and heard giving her commands.
The video was shown after prosecutors and defense lawyers gave opening statements in Kelly’s trial, with Shauna Boliker of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office calling the video’s contents “vile, disturbing and disgusting sex acts, actions that were choreographed, produced and starred in by Robert Kelly.”
“The case will unfold before you frame by disgusting frame,” she added, with the girl “doing what she’s told. There’s no feeling in her face. It is clear she is an underaged girl” whom Kelly met when she was 12.
Boliker said the girl — now in her 20s — will not testify for the prosecution. She has said it is not her on the tape and refused to testify against Kelly, but she may be called as a defense witness, court records indicate.
“Robert Kelly is not on that tape,” said defense lawyer Sam Adam. “There isn’t an original of this tape. The tape you’re going to see here is at best a copy of a copy of a copy of the original.”
Adam said the FBI reviewed the tape and could not identify Kelly as being on the tape.
The trial before Judge Vincent Gaughan of the Cook County Criminal Court got under way six years after Kelly was charged and may last up to seven weeks.
The accusations prompted some radio stations to stop playing Kelly’s songs but did not derail his career. He has earned millions of dollars from concert tours and album sales while being free on $750,000 bond.
Kelly shot to fame in the early 1990s with hits like “Sex Me” and “Bump n’ Grind.” The carnality of his early lyrics gave way to wholesomeness with the 1996 single “I Believe I Can Fly,” which earned him three Grammy Awards.
Writing by Michael Conlon; Editing by Cynthia Osterman