CHICAGO — The federal judge presiding over R. Kelly’s Chicago trial on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice ruled Monday that he will not ban people who have watched a damning docuseries about the disgraced singer from serving as jurors.
An attorney for Kelly, whose given name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, had asked the judge to disallow from the jury anyone who had seen "Surviving R. Kelly," a six-part Lifetime documentary, calling it "inflammatory."
“It would be impossible for anyone who saw any part of the series to separate what they saw on TV and in the courtroom,” attorney Jennifer Bonjean said.
U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber for the Northern District of Illinois denied the request, saying that the series aired years ago and that it wouldn't make sense to prohibit someone from serving if they'd seen only part of the series.
“Surviving R. Kelly" aired in 2019 and chronicled decades of the singer’s alleged sexual misconduct. The documentary contained more than 50 interviews and included testimony from women who accused Kelly of mental, physical and sexual abuse.
According to juror questionnaires, nine people indicated they had watched at least some of the docuseries and 70 indicated they had not.
The judge's ruling came on the first day of jury selection in a case that stems from the complaints of several women who allege that Kelly, 55, lured them into sex acts while they were underage. At least two are expected to testify, according to court documents.
Illinois federal prosecutors allege that Kelly obstructed justice in a 2008 criminal trial in Cook County, which involved a video recording of him allegedly sexually abusing a minor. He was acquitted in that case.
Kelly, who has denied any wrongdoing, is being tried alongside his former business manager, Derrel McDavid, and associate, Milton “June” Brown, who are both accused of conspiring with Kelly to intimidate and bribe witnesses and cover up evidence in the 2008 trial, according to the federal charges against them.
Kelly and Brown were in court Monday.
Jury selection is expected to conclude Tuesday, with the group of prospective jurors whittled down to 12 jurors and six alternates.
In addition to being asked if they had ever watched the docuseries and how much of it they had seen, jurors on Monday also were asked if they were familiar with the #MeToo movement and if they had been or knew someone who had been a victim of sexual abuse.
The federal trial in Chicago comes nearly two months after Kelly was convicted and handed a 30-year prison sentence in New York on charges of federal racketeering and sex trafficking.