In the end, it was Cook County prosecutors' failure to call the woman at the center of R. Kelly's trial on child pornography charges that cost them the case. They had alleged that the R&B star knew she was only 13 years old when he videotaped himself engaging in sex with her. But on Thursday, just before the jury began deliberating, the prosecutors explained they did not call the female who is now 23 years old mainly because they didn't want to expose her to unnecessary stress.
But her silence during the trial was the problem. After the jurors announced that R. Kelly was innocent of all 14 child pornography charges, five of them spoke to reporters in the Cook County courtroom and said it was that very absence of testimony from the woman, or even her parents, that significantly swayed their decision. A middle-aged black man dressed in a striped blue polo shirt said he had been convinced by the evidence that it was indeed R. Kelly who appeared in the 27-minute sex video. In fact, the man said, he was prepared to cast a guilty vote. But he reversed course, he said, because "I wasn't sure it was [the female] based on what I had before me." Shortly after the investigation began in earnest in 2002, the woman denied she was in the tape.
After Kelly's acquittal, Cook County State's Attorney Richard A. Devine defended up his team's decision not to call the alleged victim, saying, "We weren't going to open new wounds." He added, "Child pornography can be extremely difficult to prove especially because the victims may not consider themselves to be victims. But we, as a community, have to stand up for them even if they fail to come forward and state what the evidence makes clear."
At first, the jury deliberations seemed indecisive. After jurors began on Thursday afternoon, they cast votes about once an hour. First, they reached a vote of nine not guilty, three guilty. Then, it shifted to ten not guilty, two guilty. At one point, the breakdown shifted to seven not guilty, five guilty. This morning, jurors sent several notes: They needed an easel with a flip-board to visualize their arguments. They wanted a second VCR to review evidence more closely. "I've seen the video too many times the first time was too many," said the lone female juror who agreed to be interviewed after the trial. One key piece of evidence prosecutors tried to use was an identifying mole they said appeared on the lower back of the man in the video which they said identified him as R. Kelly evidence disputed by the defense.. One witness dismissed the mole as "video noise." And one juror said: "The mole played more of a role for the press. It never came up in deliberations." Jurors said they discounted testimony from several of the alleged victim's family members, who were among 14 witnesses who identified her as the female in the tape. But not all relatives identified her as such, even declining outright to do so. That certainly sowed doubt in the jury's mind, along with the absence from the stand of the alleged victim and her parents.
Shortly before noon on Friday, the jurors sent Judge Vincent M. Gaughan a note asking if they could deliberate into early evening, rather than ending about 5 p.m., perhaps to avoid working into Saturday. Then, one juror, a 30-something black man, asked to be excused saying a cousin had died Monday, his aunt and uncle had been hospitalized with pneumonia-related complications and his niece been diagnosed with cancer. Also, he said, "my mom is freaking out." The judge swiftly denied the man's request to be excused, dismissed the three alternates and snapped, "We've reached the point of no return." He sent the jurors back to deliberation. Finally, after a total of about seven hours, jurors reached a unanimous not guilty vote.
At 2:01p.m., a sheriff's deputy walked from the judge's chambers and commanded the court, "All rise." Kelly, dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt and shimmering yellow tie, took a deep breath. He bowed his head, with freshly tightened cornrows, and looked at the ground. There was silence in the courtroom. He reached for the hands of his two defense attorneys. He looked straight ahead. At 2:04p.m., the judge began reading off each count. Finally, Kelly looked to the stand. "Not guilty," the judge's assistant began, reading each count. Kelly looked down, closed his eyes. "Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus," he whispered to his defense attorneys. And suddenly, the self-described Pied Pier wept. After the verdict was read, Kelly stood up, tears flowing down his cheeks. He hugged his attorneys. Supporters who'd been here for much of the trial walked up and hugged him, too.
Five flights below, outside the courthouse, a throng of assembled spectators erupted in euphoria. Minutes later, the man known as The R. strutted out the courthouse, flanked by his beefy bodyguards and men who appeared to be his music label representatives. A fan, Lisa Jones, 33, screamed, "Alright, he's innocent," as she clutched one of the five children she'd brought to see the spectacle. Just then, her 16-year-old daughter, Jasmine Emery, smiled as she walked away from the crowd. "I just wish they leave the Kells alone," she said.