Closing Arguments Begin at R. Kelly Trial

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Time Magazine and reporter Steven Gray is covering the child pornography trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly in Chicago. He talks about Thursday's closing arguments and what a conviction might mean for the singer.


In Chicago today, closing arguments at the trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly. He faces 14 counts of child pornography stemming from a video that surfaced in 2002. According to the prosecution, it shows Kelly having sex with a 13-year-old girl. The defense says it's not the girl the prosecution says it is and that it isn't even R. Kelly. If convicted, Kelly could face 15 years in prison.

We'll hear questions about this sensational case and the way it's been conducted. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us,

Steven Gray was in the courtroom today. He's been covering the trial for Time Magazine and for Steven, nice to have you back on Talk of the Nation.

Mr. STEVEN GRAY (Reporter, Time): Nice to be here, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: And the case, as I understand it, has now gone to the jury.

Mr. GRAY: That's right. I left the courtroom maybe 15 minutes ago just as the judge was sort of giving the orders to the jury on how they are to deliberate the case. So presumably, they are currently deliberating, so when I get back to the courtroom I'll find out what's really happening.

CONAN: And as I understand it, the prosecution, in its closing arguments presented, well, People's Exhibit Number One.

Mr. GRAY: Right. We saw quite a bit of the tape in question, roughly 27 minutes. A man that the defense - sorry, a man that the prosecution alleges is R. Kelly engaging in sex with a female that the prosecution says was between 13 and 14 years old at the time. And it was a pretty extraordinary couple minutes, or 27 minutes, as viewers and spectators and, of course, the jury and the judge watched all of this stuff unfold.

CONAN: And the defense, I would presume, said, reasonable doubt.

Mr. GRAY: Right. I mean, the defense is essentially challenging, first off, the veracity of the tape. They pointed out a couple times during the closing arguments, as they have through the case, that the tape in question is a fourth or fifth generation of the original tape. They also point out that it's pretty tough burden for prosecutors to prove that it's R. Kelly in the tape for a variety of reasons. They also question whether or not this female on the video was a child or a girl at the time of the sexual act and the taping.

They also ask the jury a question, why is it that the prosecution did not call this woman, this female, to testify? She lives in Chicago. She's - you know, here. Why not call her to testify? And that's something that I'm sure a lot of jurors are going to be asking themselves.

CONAN: They might ask themselves why the defense didn't call her, either.

Mr. GRAY: Right. Yes, exactly. I'm sorry, yes, that's right.

CONAN: And the defense, of course, she - we've read that she denies that she's the girl in the picture, in the film. Nevertheless, apparently they didn't think they she would help them very much. Indeed, members of her family, some of them testified to the prosecution and some for the defense.

Mr. GRAY: Yeah. That's been another sort of tricky thing about this case is that prosecutors have had to go in a very roundabout way of attempting to establish that the female in the video was, in fact, a - you know, what they say she is, in a nutshell. And so, it's been - everything about this case, including the roundabout way that prosecutors had to go about establishing this, this female in the tape, it's been pretty bizarre.

CONAN: And we've also seen testimony by - I guess, one of the most best-known private detectives in the country.

Mr. GRAY: That's right. We've seen testimony from a lot of different people, Neal. I think there's just lots of question raised about lots of people who have been called to testify.

CONAN: And one of them was Mr. DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times, the man who originally got the tape.

Mr. GRAY: That right. Jim , Jim DeRogatis, he's the Chicago Sun-Times music critic, and he is the guy who originally received the tape back in 2002, I believe. He was called to testify but he invoked the Fifth Amendment, so essentially, he did not - you know, he didn't actually testify from the stand.

CONAN: He tried to argue first that he was not required to under the Shield Law, but they said they weren't asking him about sources.

Mr. GRAY: That's right. That's exactly right, Neal.

CONAN: And then he said, well, I could be charged by being in possession of child pornography, if that's what this is. So, I'll plead the Fifth.

Mr. GRAY: That's right, and you have to keep in mind, this tape has been widely circulated on - first off on the Internet and also sold on street corners across the country. So lots of people have this tape and you know, potentially, expose themselves to child pornography.

CONAN: We're talking with Steven Gray of Time Magazine and about the R. Kelly trial. The case is in the hands of the jurors. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get Katherine(ph) on the line, Katherine calling us from Kansas City.

KATHERINE (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to find out why it took so long for the case to go to trial because it happened so long ago. It just seems like now, it's - any evidence they have is irrelevant. And I can take my comment of the air, thanks.

CONAN: OK, Katherine.

Mr. GRAY: That's a really good question. You know, as Katherine points out, the charges were first filed back in June of 2002, and the case has dragged on for seemingly bizarre reasons. Just last December, R. Kelly failed to make a scheduled court appearance because his tour bus was stopped speeding by Utah authorities and he couldn't make it to court the next day. One time, Judge Gaughan, the presiding judge, he fell off a ladder and hurt himself so he was out for a while. Another time, one of the defense attorneys - sorry, one of the prosecutors had a baby so that also caused them postponement. So for a variety of reasons this case has been postponed for - you know, basically has been held up for the last six years.

CONAN: We mentioned that the alleged victim in this case, the young lady who was said to have been on the video, she didn't testify. Well, neither did R. Kelly, either.

Mr. GRAY: Well, that's a good question. And that's a very good question. It's important to point out that in a deposition, you know, when this case first broke, the alleged victim in the case said that she was not the person in the video and that she also never engaged in sexual acts with R. Kelly. It's unclear, precisely, why R. Kelly was not called to testify, although the presiding judge did make clear that he's got a constitutional right to defend himself from the stand. It is also important to point out that he - R. Kelly has pled not guilty.

CONAN: Of course, he pleaded not guilty. There was also a lot of forensic evidence in looking at the tape, I gather, over the question of was that dot a mole similar to a mole on the back of R. Kelly, or was it just a piece of junk that ended up somehow on the video tape?

Mr. GRAY: Yeah, that's something that's been sort of debated between prosecutors and defense attorneys over the past couple of weeks. Whether or not this mole that appears in some scenes in this 27-minute video was, in fact, a mole on R. Kelly's back, or was it video noise, as one expert described it. And I don't think that's been completely resolved yet.

CONAN: As you looked at the jurors throughout this, what I guess about a month-long case now, can you get any read from them about what their interests are, about how engaged they are in this case?

Mr. GRAY: Sure. I mean, the first week that I was in the courtroom full time and certainly today, both times I saw the 27-minute video tape that is being showed. I think there was a fairly mixed - a mix of emotion. The woman - I saw a middle-aged African-American woman whose wife - I'm sorry, whose husband is a fairly prominent pastor here in Chicago. She, at various points during both the first showing of the tape and also the showing today, she looked down in obvious disgust.

And today she - at one point, I saw her taking off her glasses and just putting it down on her lap. And she slid down for a couple of seconds. It was so clear that she was obviously disgusted. But I think people who - jurors whom, you know, took meticulous notes at various points throughout the trial, whenever the tape was shown, a lot of times they stopped. I mean, it was a very jarring thing to watch. So it will be interesting to see how they rule.

CONAN: I'm just - as somebody who has been watching this, do you have any thoughts about which way they may go?

Mr. GRAY: It's really hard to say. I mean, I think it's a very - it's going to be very, very, very tricky.

CONAN: As you looked at that tape in that courtroom and then looked at the defendant, did that look like R. Kelly on the tape?

Mr. GRAY: I'm not in a position to answer that question. I think it looks like him, but I think it's a tough question for me to answer, I think, as a reporter.

CONAN: As a reporter, I understand that, but I was just asking as an observer. And also, has the circus atmosphere - last time you were on you talked about all the people around the courtroom. Has that ebbed a little bit?

Mr. GRAY: That's a good question. Today the courtroom was certainly the fullest I've seen in the days that I've been on the case. And it was pretty much filled to capacity today. I mean, the spectators' portion of the courtroom was absolutely full to capacity. Many of the young African-American women who were there when the case first started, you know, the girls - the women who took off days from work, took off days from school in order to attend the R. Kelly trial, they were back again today. And it definitely had the feel of a circus. That was a very good description of it because the whole thing has been pretty bizarre, Neal.

CONAN: Steven Gray, thanks very much, and we'll let you get back in the event of a verdict.

Mr. GRAY: Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Steven Gray has been covering the R. Kelly trial for Time Magazine and Again, the case is now in the hands of the jury at the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago. Tomorrow, it's Science Friday and guest host Joe Palca will be here. We'll see you again on Monday. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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