CHICAGO — Since his federal child pornography trial began more than two weeks ago, R. Kelly has sat and silently listened as witnesses testified that he often recorded his sexual encounters with minor girls.
On Thursday, before the jury was brought into the courtroom, Kelly was asked to speak.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber asked the disgraced R&B superstar — sentenced to 30 years in prison earlier this year — if he planned to testify in his own defense.
Kelly leaned toward Bonjean’s microphone, lowered his mask and replied, “I’m not gonna testify.”
One of Kelly’s two co-defendants, his former business manager Derrel McDavid, told Leinenweber he’ll take the stand in his own defense next week. Kelly’s other co-defendant, his former assistant Milton “June” Brown, said he will not testify.
Thursday was the first day in which defense witnesses were called.
Among the witnesses called was Ronald Winters, a private investigator who previously worked as an assistant for Ed Genson, the legendary Chicago defense attorney who represented Kelly in his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County. Genson died in 2020, about a year after he told the Chicago Sun-Times that Kelly was “guilty as hell” in the 2008 case.
Winters testified that Genson, in the spring of 2007, came into possession of more than a half dozen tapes that showed Kelly engaging in sex acts with females. Winters said that, because of Genson’s chronic health issues, the attorney asked him to play the tapes on a VCR in his office, just across the street from the Dirksen Federal Courthouse where Kelly’s current trial is playing out.
After viewing the contents of the videos, Winters said he thought the females in the videos were all of consenting age, though on cross-examination he later conceded that he was not trained in analyzing video evidence.
The trial has featured testimony from several women who said they repeatedly engaged in sex acts with Kelly when they were minors. Among those witnesses was “Jane,” Kelly’s former “goddaughter,” who testified that she was the teen girl seen in the tape at the center of Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial.
Earlier this month, prosecutors played for jurors 17 video clips that, they allege, show Kelly engaging in sex acts with “Jane” while she was a minor. Court staff took extensive measures to ensure the footage was not seen by anyone aside from the judge, attorneys and jury, though the clips’ audio was played throughout the courtroom.
Attorneys for Kelly and his co-defendants pressed government witnesses on alleged inconsistencies between their trial testimony and previous sworn statements they made to law enforcement. Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly’s lead defense attorney, has sought to show jurors that several complaining witnesses in the case were actually of legal age to consent when they engaged in sex acts with Kelly.
Leinenweber dismissed the jurors around 1 p.m. Thursday, and testimony will not resume until Tuesday morning.
A federal grand jury in Chicago indicted Kelly on 13 counts in July 2019, accusing him of producing and receiving child pornography, while also enticing minors to engage in illegal sexual activity. Earlier this year, Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a federal judge in Brooklyn after he was found guilty of racketeering.
McDavid and Brown are charged with one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography. McDavid also faces two counts of receiving child pornography and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice related to Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County.
Prosecutors allege Kelly and those in his inner circle paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in an effort to track down video tapes that Kelly made that allegedly show him engaging in sexual activity with underage victims.