Chicago, Illinois – This morning, jury selection began for the Chicago portion of the federal case against Rapper R. Kelly. Although Kelly was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison in a Brooklyn federal court for racketeering and Mann Act violations last year, this trial is focused on allegations of corruptly fixing a 2008 Trial. Specifically, he is accused of conspiring with two associates by hiding numerous sexual assault allegations he faced against minors. The 2008 case took place in state court, at the Circuit Court of Cook County.
The next federal case will now be heard at the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago. The case is being presided over by Judge Harry Leinenweber, who is a District Judge in the Northern District of Illinois who assumed Senior status in 2002. The 85 year old Judge was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan in 1985. Prior to his appointment, he served as counsel to numerous municipalities and as a state representative.
During voir dire at the federal courthouse today, news reports broke about Judge Leinweber denying the defense’s request to remove any potential juror who has seen the “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries. While it is correct that the Judge decided not to categorically toss these jurors, the follow up questioning or jurors then asked, for those who had seen the series, whether they could remain unbiased.
While I did not see the entirety of the day-long jury selection process, I did see a portion of it. Some of the jurors who were dismissed said that they had seen the series and could not remain biased. These jurors were generally dismissed very quickly. Certain jurors indicated that they had heard of R. Kelly, or perhaps even heard of the docuseries, but did not know enough to form an opinion or to be biased. Evidently, the jurors filled out a questionnaire last Thursday. The Judge asked each of the jurors if they had learned any information since they filled out the questionnaire. While most indicated that they had not, some did.
For example, one juror indicated that he would like to revise his previous statement about knowledge. That juror indicated that he had since learned that Kelly was a “musician,” but he did not indicate about any knowledge of the charges. That jury did not appear to be dismissed, although the juror indicated he had an advanced degree in classical music.
One juror was dismissed because she said she had heard of the charges, would try to remain unbiased, but that she was an educator and has been trained to advocate for children. She stated that she would do her best, but would have a hard time not relating with the children. She was dismissed.
While other jurors provided a range of answers, ranging from having heard of R. Kelly as a rapper, to having no knowledge of the defendants at all, it is as interesting to point out the questions that were not asked, as much as the questions that were. For example, jurors were asked whether they had seen the “Surviving R. Kelly Docuseries” or if they had heard about the case. Jurors were not asked whether they knew of Kelly as a rapper or any of his music. There was also additional questioning on occasion as to whether a juror had been, or had a close family member or relative, who had been the victim or sexual abuse. Additionally, certain jurors were summarily dismissed after revealing that they had personal hardships or who had seen the trial on the news.
Must of the decision making took place at sidebars, behind the scenes. In a courtroom full of probably well over a dozen attorneys for the various defendants, there was a lot of discussion taking place over the individual headsets.
It is hard to imagine the difficulty in finding a suitable unbiased jury. Given the public exposure to the trial, many of the potential jurors were aware of the allegations and had already formed opinions as to Kelly’s guilt. Nonetheless, there were plenty who seemed perfectly suitable and impartial. It will be an interesting case to follow.