CHICAGO - Attorneys in R. Kelly's child pornography trial are expected to begin questioning 150 potential jurors Monday, and it's unlikely any of his fans will be chosen to hear the allegations against one of urban music's biggest stars.
The 41-year-old hitmaker, known for sexually charged hits like "Bump N' Grind," has pleaded not guilty to charges that he videotaped himself having sex with a girl as young as 13.
The selection of the 16 jurors, four of them alternates, will be key for both prosecutors and defense attorneys, said Steve Cron, a defense lawyer from Santa Monica, Calif., who has practiced for 35 years.
"In a case where a celebrity has good and bad public images, it's critical," said Cron, who has no link to the Kelly case.
It's unlikely the defense could pack the jury with R. Kelly fans, because "the prosecution should be successful in excluding them," he said.
Prosecutors may seek well-educated jurors, which could help cause if they call technical experts to speak about the videotape, he said.
When the trial gets under way, prosecutors will face a daunting challenge: The girl believed to be on the videotape, who is now 23, says it wasn't her. And Kelly's lawyers — including prominent Chicago attorney Ed Genson — haven't conceded it's Kelly in the video.
Prosecutors say the videotape was made between Jan. 1, 1998, and Nov. 1 2000, and that the girl who appears in it was born in September 1984. Kelly was indicted on pornography charges June 5, 2002, after the tape surfaced.
If jurors find the Grammy-winning artist guilty, he could go to prison for up to 15 years.
On the first day of the trial on Friday, Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan addressed the potential jurors.
"As you know, this is a high-profile case," he said, according to court transcripts. "And if you don't know, God love you. You're probably the only person on earth that doesn't."
The first session lasted about 30 minutes, and reporters were not allowed to attend.
Kelly, who usually sat poker-face at pretrial hearings, smiled and said hello when the judge introduced him to the potential jurors, according to Verna Sadock, a sketch artist who was in the courtroom.
As the judge read the 14-count indictment, some of the potential jurors looked uncomfortable as he went through some of the more graphic sections, Sadock said.
Kelly's lawyers have argued that pretrial publicity has precluded the possibility of selecting an impartial jury.
Defense attorney Marc Martin cited a front-page story in Friday's Chicago Sun-Times about a possible witness. Potential jurors, he said, could not have avoided seeing the article or hearing about it on radio or television.
But the judge denied a defense motion to postpone the trial, which had already been delayed for six years, suggesting that jury selection could weed out any tainted jurors.
Selecting a jury should take about a week, and the trial itself could take several weeks.
Despite defense arguments, Cron said it is possible to find fair and impartial jurors.
"They got a jury for the Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson trials," said Cron. "They'll find one for this trial too."
Although Kelly won a Grammy in 1997 for the gospel-like song "I Believe I Can Fly," his biggest hits are bawdy ballads like "Ignition" and his current single, "Hair Braider." He is due to release a new album in July.