Wednesday, June 18, 2008

R. Kelly “acquittal” is the way the judicial system in this nation is meant to work

The fact that a jury in Cook County Criminal Court acquitted singer R. Kelly on all criminal charges may leave some people disgusted, but it actually is perfect evidence of the superiority of the criminal justice system, as practiced in the United States.

As a reporter-type person myself, I must admit that when I hear of the end of a criminal case, my attention does not focus exclusively on the actual verdict. I immediately want to know which of the jurors – if any – talked.

I WANT TO hear what kind of account they give of the deliberations, and which bits of evidence they considered to be significant (and equally important, which bits of the prosecutorial or defense legal “strategy” were considered worthless). That is often more interesting than the “bottom line” ruling of “guilty” or “not guilty.”

In the case of sex-related charges against the man who created the song, “I Believe I Can Fly,” five jurors spoke (there usually are a few who are intimidated enough at the thought of trying to explain themselves that they run away from the courthouse without speaking.

What it came down to is that the jury had doubts – not about Kelly. They were all convinced that they were forced to endure repeated (and overly clinical) viewings of the now-infamous sex tape that (in their minds) showed Kelly himself having sexual intercourse with a young girl.

What they were not sure of was whether the girl who was allowing herself to be molested by Kelly was the same girl that prosecutors contend was underage at the time the tape was made, or just some other young girl who was barely of legal age who willingly submitted to Kelly’s video advances.

WHEN IT COMES to a statutory rape charge, that becomes a very important distinction.

Putting Kelly in prison just because one objects to him focusing his attentions on young girls would be outrageous – moreso than the thought of letting a so-called “guilty” man go free.

As they always try to emphasize, a person must be “guilty” beyond “reasonable doubt” in the minds of all 12 jurors in order to get a conviction in a criminal case. If jurors seriously doubted that the “victim” in this “crime” is who the prosecutors said she was, then they were totally justified in voting to acquit.

In fact, as uncertain as it sounds like the jury was, I was surprised that it took them as long as it did to reach their verdict (just over one day, with about half of the nine-man, three-woman jury initially voting “guilty” on the charges).

BUT THIS JURY took its duties seriously, which is why I consider it to be evidence of the superiority of the system that exists in this country.

Some places on this planet have criminal justice systems where guilt is presumed. In fact, some people in this country – no matter what they say publicly when they are questioned for jury duty about their political beliefs – have little or no problem accepting that concept.

Some people see someone who faces criminal charges and figure that the person must have done something to warrant attention from police and criminal prosecutors.

My point is that the prosecution, even though technically they have the burden of proof placed on them, has serious advantages going into any criminal case. From my time when I covered courts and the law (including trials and other legal proceedings at the very same Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California where Kelly “thanked Jesus” after learning of his acquittal), I know that many jurors are people who would not otherwise hang around the place.

THE STRUCTURE DATING back to the days of Anton Cermak as Chicago mayor (he lived in the neighborhood, which is why he had the courthouse built there) is imposing, particularly when one sees the Cook County Jail looming next door. It is enough to intimidate anyone into believing that “bad people” are brought here to be punished.

The easy thing for the jury in the Kelly case to do would have been to vote to “convict,” then go home and enjoy a nice dinner with their families, while beginning to share some personal stories about the time they helped “put away” that bad man R. Kelly.

Instead, they spent the time to seriously consider the charges, and they took the action that they knew would be unpopular – but which they felt was the “right” thing to do in light of the evidence.

Now some people might want to start bashing the prosecutors in this case, although I am inclined to do otherwise.

WHAT HURT THEIR case (which basically amounted to claims that Kelly had sex with a 13-year-old girl and recorded the moment on videotape) was the amount of time that had passed since the crime actually took place.

The girl whom prosecutors claim was the victim of statutory rape is now in her early 20s, which means anyone looking at her now would merely think she was a foolish woman who got involved with someone she shouldn’t have.

The visual image of today bears no resemblance to the video image of what once happened – which is what made it impossible for jurors to be certain that the young girl in the video was the same young woman who exists in real life today.

That is the biggest drawback to the fact that this particular criminal case took six years to come to trial. That’s how long it took from the time criminal charges were filed against Kelly until it finally went to trial last month.

EVEN BY THE standards of a crowded Cook County criminal justice system, that is a long delay (I seem to recall from my days covering criminal courts that the typical case took about 1.5-2 years from the time of arrest to when the case went to trial – if it didn’t end long before in a plea agreement).

That time delay ultimately hurt the prosecution. Perhaps a quicker trial might have provided a different result.

Now some will note that I have not mentioned Jim DeRogatis, the music critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, until now, even though he became a prominent part of this case. He was the one who originally received an anonymous bit of mail that was the videotape that became the primary evidence in the Kelly case.

He turned it over to police, and defense attorneys tried to demonize him for that act.

WHAT THEY REALLY wanted to do was to rip into prosecutors. But one cannot get too vicious in attacking the state of Illinois because if it chooses to be vindictive, it has significant powers of retribution.

So instead, they tried to divert attention by going after a newspaper guy, figuring no one in the general public would care if they beat up on him. All DeRogatis was doing when he cited the 1st and 5th amendments to the U.S. Constitution as his justification for not answering questions was refusing to let himself be used as the defense’s punching bag.

The true high point of the entire sordid Kelly trial was when Judge Vincent Gaughan had the sense to accept DeRogatis’ argument and exempt him from answering questions, rather than allow defense attorneys to try to persist in their attempt to “punish” the guy who cooperated with police and prosecutors by “snitching,” so-to-speak, on their client.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Would-be music fans were split on what they think of the R. Kelly verdict (, heard late last week in Cook County.

“Not guilty” and “innocent” (,CST-NWS-dero15.article) are NOT synonyms.

New Yorkers (at least those included in this commentary, may be outraged by the Kelly outcome. Personally, I held off a few days before trying to write anything about the case so that I could think more rationally about it.

1 comment:

Carl Nyberg said...

It seems to me that the jury came down on the side that if the girl and her parents weren't complaining then what R. Kelly did was OK.

What evidence could the prosecutor's present to ID the girl they didn't present?