R. Kelly Acquitted in Child-Porn Video Case

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 2008

If you squinted hard enough, you could have imagined a nervous R. Kelly hiding in a bedroom closet with light spitting through the slats, watching a nasty drama unfold before him, looking for a way out, singing his own script, telling his viewers what he was thinking and what he would do next, if he could. Singing, as he does in his Internet video sensation "Trapped in the Closet," the almost Shakespearean street ode to a man just trying to get home, held hostage by a woman and lies. Watching us watch him watch himself in an epic story of lust and deceit that would not seem to end.

But then yesterday, after deliberating 7 1/2 hours, a jury in Chicago wrote an end to the long, lurid saga that has plagued the R&B superstar.

The 41-year-old singer, born Robert Kelly, was found not guilty of all 14 child pornography counts against him: charges that he videotaped himself having sex with an underage girl.

Kelly, who had waited intensely for the verdict, wiped his face with a handkerchief after it was read. With the counts of not guilty, Kelly was heard to say: "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus." He stood in a black suit, hugged his attorneys, then left the courthouse without stopping to comment as his fans screamed, cheered and reached out for the man whose career rose despite allegations that had dogged him for more than six years as the case was delayed time and again.

"Robert said all along he believed in our system and he believes in God," Allan Mayer, a spokesman for Kelly, said in an interview. "He has said that when all the facts came out in court, he would be cleared of these terrible charges."

Kelly, a Grammy winner, faced 15 years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors argued that a video -- which one of them described as "vile, disturbing and disgusting" -- showed Kelly engaged in sexual acts with a girl as young as 13.

Defense attorneys countered that the man on the tape was not Kelly, and that the tape, which was sent to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002, could have been altered to make the man on the tape appear to be Kelly. Both Kelly and the alleged victim, who is now 23, denied that they were the people on the video, but neither took the stand to testify during the seven-week trial.

The defense's argument centered on a mole -- or rather, the lack of a mole. The man in the video, Kelly's lawyers argued, had no mole on his back. But Kelly does have one, they said. During closing arguments, defense attorneys froze a frame on the video and highlighted an area on the man's back, showing no apparent mole.

"The truth be told, there is no mole," Sam Adam Jr., one of Kelly's attorneys, said in closing arguments Thursday. "That means one thing. It ain't him. And if it ain't him, you can't convict."

But Assistant State's Attorney Shauna Boliker told the jury: "The one person who is responsible is sitting right here. . . . What you know now is that this is not a whodunit but a he-did-it."

Prosecutors, who called 22 witnesses, argued that the man on the tape was indeed Kelly. They called several childhood friends of the alleged victim who identified the female in the video. The defense called 12 witness, including three relatives of the alleged victim who told the court they did not recognize the female in the video.

The case came down to credibility, said Thomas Glasgow, a former assistant state's attorney and now a defense attorney in the Chicago area. "There was the issue of the tape being copied multiple times. There was the question of whether the mole was there. There were family members who identified her and family members who did not identify her," he said.

"It boils down to a reasonable doubt about whether the person in the video was under the age of 18 and whether that was R. Kelly in the video."

Despite the charges, Kelly has continued to sell millions of albums, and land songs at the top of the charts. In "The Champ," on his most recent album, he sings:

All y'all wanna pile on me

Make it hard for me to breathe

Throw sand in my eyes

And make it hard for me to see . . .

Can't see

Still hard to defeat

The history that I make

Impossible to repeat

Spread rumors, point fingers, throw stones

Judge me, hate me, love me, hug me, curse me, whatever

'Cause y'all . . . opinions don't feed me

His work has pushed the limits of what was tasteful and what was comical, moving from ballads to farce. His multi-episode "Trapped in the Closet" sex opera has logged millions of hits on YouTube. Watching it, you know it is not high art, but the song and the story pull you in anyway -- with the feeling that you are watching people you know, in stories you know intimately.

Kelly seems likely to write another epic saga into his music.

"R. Kelly has always been an artist who has taken his autobiography into account in his work," said Sean Fennessey, the music editor of Vibe magazine. "I suspect the ramifications of his verdict will be in his music. He is working on a new album. I suspect there will be a palpable sense of relief in some of his music as well. I think the songs will sound triumphant that he has overcome this situation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company