Opening arguments begin in R. Kelly case

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CHICAGO Opening arguments are expected to begin Tuesday in the R. Kelly child pornography trial ù the first rhetorical punches in what could become a contentious legal drama.

The 41-year-old R&B superstar is accused of videotaping himself around 10 years ago having sex with a girl as young as 13 years old, and the 26 minute footage will be central to the prosecution’s case.

Kelly, who won a Grammy in 1997 for the gospel-like song "I Believe I Can Fly" but whose biggest hits are sexually charged songs like "Bump N’ Grind" and "Ignition," has pleaded not guilty. He faces up to 15 years if convicted.

Jury selection finished last week with prosecutors and defense attorneys accusing each other of trying to stack the panel along racial lines. Eight jurors are white, four are black, with two black alternates, one Latino and one white alternate.

The jurors include a Baptist preacher’s wife, a young woman who said she was once raped and a business executive who said during jury selection he’d thought Kelly was guilty.

As convincing as videotape evidence can be, it doesn’t appear to be a slam dunk for the prosecution in this case.

The biggest challenge for prosecutors is that the person they identify as the victim, now 23, denies it’s her. So prosecutors will be in the extraordinary position of having to show that the alleged victim is lying.

It’s unclear if prosecutors will show the videotape within the first few days, then build a case around it, or if they’ll lay out the case, then show it weeks later in a high-drama point that they hope will clinch a conviction.

Prosecutors say the videotape was made between Jan. 1, 1998, and Nov. 1 2000. Someone sent the videotape to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002, and the newspaper then turned it over to authorities; Kelly was indicted later that year.

The defense is likely to try and raise doubts that the man in the videotape is Kelly, perhaps by reviving a claim that his likeness could have been computer generated. They’re also likely to challenge the assertion that the girl is under age.

The other key figures in the trial include Judge Vincent Gaughan, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who has made it clear he won’t let the case descend into a celebrity circus.

His obsession with keeping control of the proceedings have occasionally verged on quirky.

During a hearing on Friday, Gaughan held up a plastic bag in court with pieces of chewed gum he said had accumulated under the rows where the press sits during jury selection.

"Don’t stick gum on the benches," he said. "Actually, it’s a crime."

The defense is led by 66-year-old Ed Genson, highly sought by the rich and famous for his persuasive powers with jurors. The gray-bearded Genson suffers from a neurological disorder that forces him to walk as if he had a severe hip injury, and he often uses a motorized scooter. He’s known to adopt a gasping, stammering air that masks the wiles of a shrewd tactician.

Shauna Boliker, 48, is expected to take the lead for the prosecution. The mother of three had her latest child only last year, which contributed to delays in Kelly’s trial. She has prosecuted several high-profile cases, including against Rev. Daniel McCormack, a Catholic priest who pleaded guilty last year to abusing five boys. (AP)

______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.  

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