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Jury picked in R. Kelly child porn case

A federal jury has been empanelled in R. Kelly’s hometown of Chicago to decide multiple charges against the R&B singer, as prosecutors and defence lawyers argued toward the end of the process about whether the government was improperly attempting to keep some Black people from the jury.

Kelly, who is Black, is accused of enticing minors for sex, producing child pornography and fixing his 2008 state child pornography trial at which he was acquitted.

As the sides on Tuesday began exercising peremptory challenges – in which they can remove a fixed number of potential jurors from the pool – Kelly lawyer Jennifer Bonjean accused prosecutors of seeking to strike Blacks “to deny Mr. Kelly a jury of his peers”.

Prosecutors noted multiple African Americans had already made it onto the jury before the defence objected, and they argued their reasons for wanting to strike some had nothing to do with race. In one case, they said one older man appeared to have a hard time staying awake.

Judge Harry Leinenweber partially agreed with the defence, disallowing prosecutors from striking three Blacks from the jury, and restored them. About half the 12 jurors empanelled were identified as Black by the judge, prosecutor and defence lawyers.

Six alternates were also selected.

Some of the jurors selected had watched at last part of a six-part documentary series, Surviving R. Kelly, about sex abuse allegations against the Grammy award-winning singer. Watching it wasn’t an automatic disqualification as long as a would-be juror could assure Judge Leinenweber they could still be impartial.

Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday morning, after which prosecutors will begin calling witnesses.

In all, the judge dismissed about half of the more than 100 potential jurors who were vetted over two days in a large, 25th floor courtroom in downtown Chicago.

Kelly, dressed in a grey suit and wearing a surgical mask over his mouth and nose, followed proceedings from a defence table, sometimes appearing to study would-be jurors Tuesday as they answered judges questions.

One central focus of the trial will be on whether Kelly threatened and paid off a girl with whom he allegedly videotaped himself having sex when he was about 30 and she was no older than 14. That’s the allegation underpinning another of the charges against Kelly, conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Kelly, 55, has already been sentenced by a New York federal judge to a 30-year prison term for a 2021 conviction on charges that he used his fame to sexually abuse other young fans.

Kelly faces four counts of enticement of minors for sex, one each for four other accusers. They, too, are expected to testify.

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