Accusation of inappropriate contact with witnesses by R. Kelly’s prosecutor raises temperatures as trial approaches

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CHICAGO — With just over a week to go until jury selection, R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago turns into a blood-curdling legal brawl.

A barrage of last-minute files from attorneys representing Kelly and his two co-defendants have shown little hesitation in bringing new fights to the fore — a far more aggressive approach than the legal team defending Kelly at his trial in New York last year. York.

Addressed in recent motions: A prosecutor’s apparently “mysterious, clandestine and totally inappropriate” communication with potential witnesses. A request for more information about an underage victim that was made public and then quickly sealed. An old Chicago reporter who has been subpoenaed as a possible witness.

Meanwhile, about 100 potential jurors will appear at the Dirksen US Courthouse in about a week.

Kelly, 55, was charged in July 2019 on charges of conspiring with his former business manager, Derrel McDavid, and another associate, Milton “June” Brown, to manipulate his 2008 Cook County child pornography case and allegedly sexually abuse underage girls for years. . The trial will begin on August 15 and will likely take at least a month.

McDavid’s attorneys filed paperwork early Friday containing new allegations against US assistant attorney Angel Krull, one of the lead prosecutors in the case through 2020, when she transferred to another district of the US law firm. Sources told the Tribune she left Chicago to be closer to a sick relative.

Prosecutors have asked until Tuesday to comment on the allegations.

McDavid’s attorneys allege that Krull had inappropriate communications with a key witness in the case: the victim at the center of multiple child pornography tapes that are expected to be played in front of jurors during the trial. The victim, who is now an adult, is expected to testify that she was the underage girl in the videos and that she lied about it to investigators at the behest of Kelly and his associates.

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Krull had the woman’s number saved in her contacts under the name “Boss Baby” and texted her about a meeting outside working hours. And a researcher sent Krull selfies showing the woman’s pregnancy, and Krull later complimented the woman on how she looked, saying she was “beautiful” and “glowing,” according to McDavid’s lawyers.

The behavior was “extremely familiar and strangely personal in a way that is simply not in line with the professional standards of the US Attorney’s Office,” the lawyers argued. There were also meetings and phone calls between the two women that were not commemorated in reports, a procedural error that McDavid said could be a violation of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the Chicago journalist who helped spread the word about Kelly’s alleged sexual misconduct more than two decades ago has been subpoenaed as a possible witness to the trial, according to McDavid’s attorneys. Jim DeRogatis also communicated with Krull in the early stages of the case, although for some reason Krull used an email using the pseudonym “Demetrius Slovenski”.

DeRogatis has previously told the Tribune that he contacted Krull first, in a failed attempt to cultivate her as a source. In court earlier this week, prosecutors were adamant that DeRogatis is not considered a potential government witness. McDavid’s attorneys confirmed in a court filing Friday that DeRogatis has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial, presumably by McDavid’s attorneys.

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DeRogatis, then a music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, received the sex tape in the middle of Kelly’s 2002 case from an unknown sender. He was also called to testify at R. Kelly’s first trial six years later; he declined to answer questions, citing the reporter’s privilege and the First and Fifth Amendments.

Meanwhile, Kelly’s attorneys filed paperwork Friday alleging prosecutors had clerks seal a motion that would paint one of their witnesses in an unflattering light. The defense motion, which is still sealed, asked for more information about possible illegal activities by one of the victims in the case, according to Friday’s filing.

Prosecutors responded, saying they were required to keep the file private because it “refers to an underage victim who is not publicly known and whose identity can be established” by the information in the motion. They told Kelly’s attorneys that they believed it should be filed under seal, and warned that if it were filed publicly, they would get it back under seal until a judge could resolve it. When Kelly’s attorneys made it public, prosecutors acted “within minutes” to get it off the public roll, according to their response.

Kelly’s trial in Chicago comes on the heels of his conviction in federal court in Brooklyn. In June, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering. He is appealing both the jury’s verdict and the judge’s verdict.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Harry Leinenweber revealed that a pool of 100 potential jurors would arrive at the Dirksen US Courthouse next week to complete pre-jury selection questionnaires — an attempt to weed out unsuitable or potentially biased jurors before going ahead. the court is being interrogated . All jurors who come in have already indicated that they can sit out a lengthy trial.

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Following objections from defense attorneys, Leinenweber ruled that the names, professions and other identifying information of the jurors would not be made public. Prosecutors said they were concerned Kelly’s die-hard fans would harass jurors if their identities were revealed; Defense attorneys said jurors could feel they have to fear for their safety, which could bias them against the defendants.

Leinenweber noted that there is in fact “a fairly large group of people … quite active in voicing disagreement with (Kelly’s) treatment”, and thus the jurors’ identities would remain hidden. But in an effort to allay the defense’s concerns, Leinenweber said he will tell the jurors they are anonymous, simply so the media doesn’t contact them.

The trial is the largest to take place since the start of the pandemic at the Chicago federal courthouse, where many COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, including masks for anyone not speaking in court, frequent COVID tests for jurors, witnesses and lawyers, and strict social distancing guidelines.

To accommodate all parties, the trial will take place in the large ceremonial courtroom on the 25th floor, which is in high demand. In fact, Leinenweber was adamant on Wednesday that the trial would not last more than a month, as another trial will begin in the ceremonial room at the end of September.

“We’re going to get it done in four weeks, in hell or high tide,” Leinenweber said. “I have a reputation for moving a case.”

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