The R&B star's child-porn trial is delayed yet again. What's really going on here?

By Vanessa Juarez and Simon Vozick-Levinson
September 07, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
George McGinn/Getty Images

Is R. Kelly the luckiest man in showbiz, or does it just seem that way? In the five years since the now-40-year-old R&B star was arrested on child pornography charges, he’s been on a professional hot streak with seven top-selling albums, two national tours, and the exceedingly loony — but beloved — R&B hip-hop operetta Trapped in the Closet. And just as his attorneys were gearing up for the Sept. 17 trial in Chicago, Judge Vincent Gaughan announced another delay on Sept. 4: Lead prosecutor Shauna Boliker had a baby last week, and Gaughan said she wouldn’t be able to proceed to trial, per her doctor’s orders.

It’s just the latest strange chapter in the ongoing saga that is the case against Robert Sylvester Kelly. In 2002, the Chicago Sun-Times received a homemade video from an anonymous source that allegedly shows Kelly performing sexual acts with an underage girl suspected to be as young as 13. It was quickly turned over to authorities, who eventually charged the R&B singer with 14 counts of child pornography. (Kelly maintains his innocence.) Within a year, police had confiscated from Kelly’s Florida home a camera with a dozen images that allegedly featured more child porn. But those charges were dropped after a judge said authorities had improperly issued the search warrant. Pretrial hearings have also been postponed at least twice: In July 2006, the presiding judge fell off a ladder and broke some bones, and the singer’s appendix burst in February, requiring surgery and putting off yet another court date. Meanwhile, why the judge chose Sept. 17 as a trial date when he most likely knew that the lead prosecutor’s baby was due Aug. 29 remains a mystery — thanks to a strict gag order that surrounds the case. ”The aggregate amount of delay in this case is bizarre,” says Albert Alschuler, professor of law at Northwestern University. ”And I think it’s likely to hurt the prosecutor’s case. [It] has a stale feel to it.”

At press time, another hearing was scheduled for Sept. 10, and a source close to the case anticipates that ”a new trial date will probably be announced — [with] the expectation that it won’t be more than a few weeks.” A rep for Kelly says the singer ”has no definite plans for a tour or an album, because he’s concentrating fully on preparing for the trial.” When and if the proceedings ever do get under way, they’re bound to kick off one of the more salacious and buzzed-about celebrity trials in recent memory. It’s been reported that the minor who allegedly appears on the tape says it is not her and is refusing to testify for the prosecution. Either way, the trial’s outcome hinges on what and who the jury does — or doesn’t — see on that videotape. The jurors may be compelled to watch the graphic 26-minute, 39-second sex video again and again as both sides parse the details to fit their line of reasoning. ”You’re going to have a battle of experts” dissecting the tape, predicts Alschuler. ”These people are called saxophones because they play tunes for those who pay them.”

NEXT PAGE: Do they have the evidence?