CHICAGO – R. Kelly was acquitted of all charges Friday after less than a day of deliberations in his child pornography trial, ending a six-year ordeal for the R&B superstar.
Kelly dabbed his face with a handkerchief and hugged each of his four attorneys after the verdict — not guilty on all 14 counts — was read. The Grammy award-winning singer had faced 15 years in prison if convicted.
Minutes later, surrounded by bodyguards, he left the courthouse without comment. Dozens of fans screamed and cheered as he climbed into a waiting SUV.
"All I heard (from Kelly) while those 14 verdicts were being read was 'Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,"' said Sam Adam Jr., one of his attorneys.
Prosecutors had argued that a video tape mailed to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002 showed Kelly engaged in graphic sex acts with a girl as young as 13 at the time. Both Kelly, 41, and the now 23-year-old alleged victim had denied they were the ones on the tape. Neither testified during the trial.
"Robert said all along that he believed in our system and he believed in God — and that when all the facts came out in court, he would be cleared of these terrible charges," according to a statement from his publicist, Allen Mayer. "But he never dreamed it would take six and a half years. This has been a terrible ordeal for him and his family and at this point all he wants to do is move forward and put it behind him."
The prosecution's star witness was a woman who said she engaged in three-way sex with Kelly and the alleged victim. Defense attorneys argued the man on the tape didn't have a large mole on his back; Kelly has such a mole.
The monthlong trial centered on whether Kelly was the man who appears on a sexually graphic, 27-minute videotape at the heart of the case, and whether a female who also appears on it was underage.
Over seven days presenting their case, prosecutors called 22 witnesses, including several childhood friends of the alleged victim and four of her relatives who identified her as the female on the video.
In just two days, Kelly's lawyers called 12 witnesses. They included three relatives of the alleged victim who testified they did not recognize her as the female on the tape.
Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Shauna Boliker said she believed the female on the tape was a victim, not a prostitute as the defense had contended.
"This shows the world how difficult this crime is to prosecute," she said. "It also takes the soul of the victim, the heart of the victim."
Kelly won a Grammy in 1997 for "I Believe I Can Fly," and is known for such raunchy hits as "Bump N' Grind," "Ignition," and for "Trapped in the Closet," a multipart saga about the sexual secrets of an ever-expanding cast of characters.
Of the 12 jurors, nine were men and three were women; eight were white and four were black. They included the wife of a Baptist preacher from Kelly's Chicago-area hometown, Olympia Fields, as well as a compliance officer for a Chicago investment firm and a man in his 60s who emigrated from then-Communist Romania nearly 40 years ago.
Despite his legal troubles, Kelly — who rose from poverty on Chicago's South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer — still retains a huge following, and his popularity has arguably grown in recent years.
The singer has released more than half a dozen albums, most of them selling over a million copies. He's also had a multitude of hits and gone on tours. Kelly has a new song, "Hair Braider," out now, and is due to release a new album in July.
Kelly, always meticulously dressed in a suit and tie, appeared tense at times during the trial, furrowing his brow. He seemed particularly ill at ease when prosecutors played the sex tape in open court after opening arguments.
In the video, entered into evidence as "People's Exhibit No. 1," a man has sex with a young female, who is naked for most of the recording. She is often blank-faced. The man speaks to her in a hushed voice, and she calls him "Daddy."
In one scene, alluded to in one count of the indictment, the man urinates on the female.
The issue of whether there was or wasn't a fingernail-sized mole on the man's lower was a subject of hours of testimony. A defense witness told jurors there was no mole on his back, proving it's not Kelly, who has such a mole. But a prosecution witness displayed freeze frames of the video where a dark spot seemed to appear as the man turns to take off his pants.
One surreal moment came when a defense expert played a segment of the tape he doctored showing two headless bodies engaging in sex. The defense said that backed their argument that Kelly's likeness could have been computer-generated.
Cross examination was often heated. Several witnesses cried on the stand.
The star prosecution witness, Lisa Van Allen, became teary eyed as she told jurors she engaged in several three-way sexual encounters with Kelly and the alleged victim, including once on a basketball court. Kelly videotaped the trysts, she said.
Van Allen also claimed Kelly used to carry a duffel bag stuffed full of his homemade sex tapes.
The defense called several witnesses in a bid to discredit Van Allen, accusing her of trying to extort money from Kelly. Under cross-examination, Van Allen admitted she once stole Kelly's $20,000 diamond-studded watch from a hotel.