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Juror excused from R. Kelly child sex abuse trial after having panic attack during closing arguments

Closing arguments began Monday in the R&B singer’s federal trial on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice.
R. Kelly appears at Leighton Criminal Court Building on May 7, 2019, in Chicago.
R. Kelly appears at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on May 7, 2019.E. Jason Wambsgans / Getty Images file

A juror in R. Kelly's federal trial on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice was replaced Monday after she had a panic attack during closing arguments.

The juror, a white woman who works for a public library, was excused by the judge around 3:30 p.m. local time, hours into closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“I’ve been advised she said she can’t go on one minute more,” U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said before he replaced Juror 44 with Juror 83, a white man.

The switch came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo and a defense attorney had presented closing arguments. The trial continued after the change was made.

Kelly, 55, is on trial in federal court in Chicago on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice. He is already serving a 30-year prison sentence after he was found guilty last year in New York City on charges of federal racketeering and sex trafficking.

Pozolo told jurors Monday that Kelly had committed "horrible crimes against children" and then, with help from his business partners, tried to cover up his actions because he knew they would be "completely damning."

The singer, whose legal name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, is being tried alongside his former business manager, Derrel McDavid, and an associate, Milton “June” Brown, who are both accused of conspiring with him to intimidate and bribe witnesses and to cover up evidence in a 2008 criminal trial on child pornography charges in Cook County.

Of the three, only McDavid testified during the trial.

In closing arguments, McDavid’s defense attorney, Beau Brindley, attacked the credibility of two government witnesses who testified that he conspired with Kelly.

“The only two people who said he did anything wrong are two people who plainly lied,” Brindley said.

“The evidence fits together to expose a lie,” he said.

An attorney for Brown, Mary Judge, said he was "nothing more than an assistant" to Kelly and that he did not know about any wrongdoing and therefore could not have been involved in covering it up.

Brown "had no knowledge of what was on the tapes, and there’s no evidence that he did," Judge said, referring to videos that prosecutors allege recorded Kelly sexually abusing a minor.

Jurors heard only from Pozolo, Brindley and Judge on Monday. Closing arguments will continue Tuesday with Judge and Kelly's attorney.

A large crowd of fans and supporters lined up to get into the courtroom Monday morning to catch a glimpse of Kelly.

Inside the courtroom, a supporter quietly read aloud from the Bible, while another recited the rosary. Another woman asked people to move out of her line of sight during breaks in the trial so she could keep her eyes locked on Kelly. A few people who tried to sneak into the courtroom were escorted out by marshals.

Prosecutors have sought throughout the monthlong trial to prove that Kelly and his associates conspired to keep video recordings of him allegedly sexually abusing a minor from coming to light. Prosecutors showed jurors parts of the videos. 

Kelly, McDavid and Brown did their best "to cover up the fact that R. Kelly, the R&B superstar, is actually a sexual predator," Pozolo said Monday.

“Robert Kelly abused many girls over many years. He committed horrible crimes against children. And he didn’t do it alone,” Pozolo said. McDavid and Brown “worked to get those tapes back because they would be completely damning.”

Kelly, who has denied any wrongdoing, was acquitted in 2008 in a case that revolved around one of the tapes after the girl who purportedly appeared in the recording refused to testify at the trial. Jurors at the time said that made it difficult for them to convict Kelly.

The woman, who is now 37 and was identified by the pseudonym Jane in court, was the prosecution’s star witness in this trial.

Jane testified that she had sex with Kelly “hundreds” of times from age 15 to 18. Under questioning from prosecutors, she said she did so because she was intimidated by him and considered him an “authoritative figure.”

Pozolo said in closing arguments that Kelly "took advantage of Jane's youth" for his own "sick pleasure."

"She was brave enough to come forward after all these years to tell you what happened," Pozolo told jurors in her closing argument.

Kelly's attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, previously told jurors that they will have to decide whether they believe the accusers and the witnesses to be credible, pointing out that Jane had previously denied that she was the person in the video with Kelly.