The news came in late yesterday afternoon, “R.Kelly Not Guilty!” It prompted the universal reaction, “huh?” The verdict was far more widely reported than the trial, because it was far more of a rarity.
The trial happened Chicago. If it was mentioned at all in New York, it was buried somewhere between the ads for free gas giveaways and age-spot cures. The first question asked was, “who is R. Kelly?” He is a 41 year old R & B star whose signature song is “I believe I can fly,” a ballad known by every second grader because of its inspirational nature. But, as was invariably noted on American Bandstand, you couldn’t dance to it.
And why was he on trial?
the case was intended to be clear-cut: the “sweet, nice, lovely” victim was introduced to Mr. Kelly at the age of 12 by her aunt, a protégé of Mr. Kelly’s named Stephanie Edwards. But instead of making the girl a star, Mr. Kelly preyed on her, made her do “vile, disgusting” things and filmed them. Since Mr. Kelly knew she was under age, the state said, he was guilty of making child pornography.
This was certainly salacious enough to justify interest. Even better, the main witness against Kelly was “Lisa Van Allen, who testified that she had a three-way sexual encounter with them.” Better still.
Ms. Van Allen, who received state and federal immunity to testify, did not appear to be an unimpeachable witness. She told the court that she had first had sex with Mr. Kelly at age 17, immediately after being introduced to him on the set of one of his videos, and admitted that she stole a $20,000 Rolex from him. Her current boyfriend and a former boyfriend are both felons.
Dating felons? Talk about guilt by association. But enough for a defense lawyer, and a jury, to use to challenge her credibility.
But there was one thing the case lacked: A victim. The supposed 12 year old girl didn’t testify, and averred that it wasn’t her. Fourteen others said it was. She said it wasn’t. There’s a lesson here about identification, and self-identification, thankfully, still carries more weight.
But why wasn’t this case a media sensation, raising troubling and difficult issues about whether “stars” receive special treatment, or whether sexual exploitation of children is destroying the fabric of America? The New York Times takes a stab at it:
In some ways, this case did not resemble the Simpson case. R. Kelly is a Chicago success story and still makes his home here, yet as a public spectacle the trial was something of a bust.
The courthouse is in an inconveniently located neighborhood, the charges were old, and allegations of the singer’s interest in under-age women are older still. On most days there was more courtroom security than spectators.
Like the Times, I don’t have a clue either. This trial might have caught my eye, but it never did. I knew it was happening, but was never interested enough to pay attention. Frankly, now that I’ve taken a few minutes to learn a little bit about it, it strikes me as one lousy prosecution.
Was this about taking a bad case and running with it because it involved a celebrity and the prosecution thought it could make some noise and get some attention for going after R.Kelly? If so, it appears that their scheme failed and never achieved widespread interest in the prosecution itself. Instead, the only thing that will be remembered is that the prosecution lost.