Potential Jurors Questioned In R. Kelly Trial

CHICAGO (AP) -- Attorneys and the judge in R. Kelly's child pornography trial began questioning 150 potential jurors Monday, asking what they know about the allegations against one of urban music's biggest stars.

The 41-year-old R&B singer, 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.

Kelly remained pokerfaced Monday, appearing at times to scan the faces of the potential jurors and occasionally leaning over to speak with his lawyers.

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 their 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 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 weren't allowed to attend.

Kelly's lawyers had argued any jury pool has been tainted because of pretrial publicity.

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.

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