CHICAGO – Prosecutors played the sex tape at the center of R. Kelly's child pornography trial in open court Tuesday, just hours after opening statements in which they accused the R&B singer of choreographing and starring in a video featuring "vile, disturbing and disgusting sex acts" with an underage girl.
The jurors, who took feverish notes during opening statements, sat motionless while the video played. Their eyes fixed on a 4-by-4-foot monitor just outside the jury box. In the courtroom, the lights were dimmed and blinds drawn across windows. There were several other monitors in the room, including one facing the crowded gallery.
A grim, intent Kelly watched the whole video on a small monitor placed on the defense table, only occasionally averting his eyes. At times, the 41-year-old rocked in his chair or rested his chin in his hand.
Before putting the tape into a videocassette player, a prosecutor walked across the stately courtroom, held it out for the defense team to see and entered it into the record as "People's Exhibit No. 1."
The roughly 27-minute homemade video shows a man having sex with a young female, who is naked for most of the recording — except for a necklace with a cross dangling from it.
At the start of the videotape, the man hands the female money and she mouths the words, "Thank you." She is often blank-faced, impassive. The man speaks to the female in a hushed, monotone voice, and she calls him "Daddy."
Songs from the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys blare from a radio. The female dances — the man out of view. Back in view, he has sex with her. The man walks up to the camera to adjust it a few times, but his face is often obscured.
As she dances, the female urinates on the floor. Near the end of the video, the man urinates on the female.
Prosecutors say the man in the video is Kelly, and that the female is a girl who was as young as 13 years old when the tape was made between Jan. 1, 1998, and Nov. 1, 2000.
The singer, who has pleaded not guilty, faces up to 15 years if convicted.
During opening statements in the long-delayed trial, Cook County prosecutor Shauna Boliker warned jurors they would have to watch shocking video and that "the case will unfold before you frame by disgusting frame."
"You will see the sex acts he commands her to do," said Boliker, who referred to Kelly by his birth name of Robert Kelly. "Acts you have never seen before. Vile, disturbing and disgusting sex acts, actions that were choreographed, produced and starred in by Robert Kelly."
Kelly often looked strained, even worried during opening statements, his mouth drawn tight as he hunched forward on a leather-backed chair — frequently appearing to study jurors' faces.
Minutes after Boliker concluded, defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. paced the room and often raised his voice in his opening statements, telling jurors with emphasis that Kelly was not the man on the tape. He also called the video's origins into question and said the female who authorities allege is depicted on the tape is not that person at all.
"You know what they have to connect Mr. Kelly to this tape?" he asked the jurors, pausing. "Nothing."
The 23-year-old woman prosecutors say was a minor at the time of the taping also denies that she's the person on the video.
The trial has been delayed repeatedly since the tape was mailed to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. The newspaper turned it over to authorities, and Kelly was indicted later that year.
Boliker alleged the singer took advantage of the inherent trust children place in adults, and the female on the tape performed acts that Kelly "commanded" her to perform.
Boliker told jurors the state will not call the alleged victim to the stand, but she did not explain why.
Adam addressed that issue forcefully as he faced jurors during his opening statement, asking them why prosecutors wouldn't call the female as a witness.
"One answer," he said. "One: It's not her on that tape."
Adam also tried to raise questions about the tape itself, saying no one knows where it originated before it showed up at the Sun-Times. The videotape in evidence, he said, is "at best a copy of a copy of a copy." He also said the FBI, which compiled a report on the tape, could not identify the man in it as Kelly.
Adam did make it clear what he wanted jurors doing when they watched videotape: Looking for a mole on the man's back.
The defense displayed a photo of Kelly's back with a mole smaller than the size of a dime. Adam said jurors wouldn't find the mole on the back of the man in the videotape.
"There is no mole on his back," Adam said. "Robert isn't that man on the tape."
Adam also told jurors the female that prosecutors claim is depicted on the video "is not a victim because she is not the girl on that tape." Instead, he suggested the woman in the video is a "professional prostitute" because the man in the video hands her money.
Kelly, with an entourage in tow, arrived at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse about 90 minutes before opening statements were to begin. He wore a navy pinstriped suit and blue and orange striped tie, and his hair was in corn rows.
When he stepped into the hall during a short recess Tuesday, several teenage girls shrieked in delight at the sight of the award-winning singer.
Kelly won a Grammy in 1997 for the gospel-tinged "I Believe I Can Fly," and is also known for such songs as "Bump N' Grind," "Ignition," and "Trapped in the Closet," a multipart saga about the sexual secrets of a lively and ever-expanding cast of characters.
Also Tuesday, jurors heard from retired Chicago police investigator Dan Everett, who said he and his partner were sent to the Sun-Times building in February 2002 after a reporter received a VHS videotape the newspaper wanted to turn over to police.
Everett told jurors what he and his partner witnessed on the sex tape, but he also testified that he knew the female depicted in it was an underage girl because he had interviewed her as part of an earlier investigation.
At that point, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan called a sidebar outside the jury's presence and threatened to declare a mistrial because Everett had been instructed not to use the word "investigation."
Everett did not say what the previous investigation involved.
Gaughan scolded Everett, saying he'd made an egregious mistake that violated the judge's court order and said he would declare a mistrial if the word was used again in reference to the earlier interview.
Everett told the jury when it returned that he had interviewed the young female on Dec. 5, 2000, 14 months before he began investigating the videotape.
Jury selection finished last week with prosecutors and defense attorneys accusing each other of trying to stack the panel along racial lines. Eight of the seated jurors were white and four were black, and that remained the jury's racial makeup after a white female juror was replaced Tuesday morning by one of four alternates, a white male.