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'Braces' defense could have some teeth

Trials and ArbitrationR. KellyBasketballFamily

If R. Kelly's mole defense doesn't set him free, the defense clearly hopes the alleged victim's braces can.

Shortly before the lunch break, the defense showed the jury a photo of the alleged victim with orthodontia gear in her mouth. A former family friend testified the victim, now 23, had braces in the late 1990s--about the same time authorities say the video was made.

Tjada Burnett, who worked with the alleged victim's mother and knew the alleged victim since she was 4, identified the girl in the video as her friend's daughter. She also testified that she recognized the male participant as Kelly, whom she had met on a few occasions.

The female participant, however, does not appear to be wearing braces in the video. Burnett testified the alleged victim wore braces at some point between 1997 and 1999, but she could not provide an exact date.

Still, she was adamant the female in the video was the alleged victim.

"It's her cheek, her nose, her facial structure," she said.

The missing-braces revelation comes a week after the defense showed the jury a police photograph of a dark mole on Kelly's back. The male participant in the video appears to have no such mole when the video is played in real time.

Stacy St. Clair

May 27, 2008 1:52 PM: R. Kelly trial: What did she hear, and when did she hear it?

As has been the case with just about all of the state's witnesses in the R. Kelly trial, the real action came during cross-examination.

In this case, it was another old friend of the alleged victim who was treated to a caustic cross-examination by defense attorney Sam Adam Jr.

Adam has made his presence known in the trial, giving a passionate opening statement and punishing witnesses with tough questions and charged accusations.

His cross-examination of Raven Gengler, a recent Loyola University graduate and former friend of the alleged victim, was no different.

Gengler, who went to junior high with the alleged victim and played on the same basketball teams with her then, testified that she recognized the alleged victim in the tape and also Robert Kelly from their faces and their voices.

While Gengler acknowledged she never saw the two act in an "inappropriate way," and that the alleged victim never told her about any sexual relationship with the singer, she was certain it was her friend and Kelly in the tape.

"I mean it was absolutely [the victim]. ... It was just her facial features, the expression on her face, you could vaguely kind of hear her voice even," she said under direct examination.

But Adam, after congratulating Gengler first on her graduation this month, had a problem with that.

"So when you went down to see [the investigators] you told [them] you recognized the voice, didn't you?" he asked.

"At that time, I don't believe I spoke about her voice," she said. "I can't recall, it was a long time ago."

Adam then asked about the man's voice on the tape.

Gengler was less certain of whether she told investigators she recognized Kelly's voice, but indicated that it was possible.

Then Adam put to her the key question of the session: How was it possible that on March 24, 2002, she told investigators she recognized Kelly's voice from the tape when, about a week later, she told the grand jury she'd never seen the tape?

He read from her grand jury testimony, given March 31, 2002, in response to the question of whether she had ever seen the tape: "No, thank God."

"By March 24 of 2002, you have not yet reviewed the video, yet you told [a detective] you recognized a voice you hadn't heard?" he asked.

And then, in his customary way during this case, he dropped a suggestive, rhetorical bomb.

"I ask you, Miss Gengler, if it is that you've been pressured into saying these things," Adam boomed.

"I don't understand why I would have said that it was his voice if I had not viewed the video," she replied.

"The answer is because you were getting pressured by the detectives and the state's attorney's office," he shot back."I would never lie," she said.

On redirect, prosecutor Shauna Boliker sought to clarify that the only time Gengler recognized the voices was when she most recently viewed the tape in the state's attorney's office.

Adam got the last word in, though, when he asked how long it had been since Gengler and the alleged victim last spoke. Gengler indicated it had been about eight years.

Azam Ahmed

May 27, 2008 1:20 PM: Kelly vs. Taz?

The first witness today for the state was Alexandra Guerrero, an investigator with the Cook County state's attorney's office. She was called to describe R. Kelly's former North Side home, where prosecutors allege the sex tape was made.

But her testimony quickly turned into a play-by-play of a fantasy basketball game in which Kelly was the star player.

Kelly, as you may recall, had a hit a while back with a little song called "I Believe I Can Fly," from the soundtrack to the animated movie "Space Jam." Well, according to Guerrero, Kelly also believed he could play ball.

Guerrero described—and prosecutors provided photos of—a mural plastered on the wall of a half basketball court in the lower level of the home. In the mural, Kelly is a Michael Jordan doppelganger, bald, shiny, muscles rippling, committing a flagrant foul against the Tazmanian Devil. MJ himself is the referee. And the audience? A cast of Looney Tunes characters, from Elmer Fudd to Sylvester, cheering the one-on-one match up, holding signs that read "Go R. Kelly!" and "Go Taz!"

With a second on the shot clock, the score was R.Kelly 95, Taz-D 93.

What does this have to do with the charges? We don't know yet, but the defense has suggested it could be key to establishing whether Kelly owned the home at the time he's alleged to have made the videotape.

Kayce Ataiyero

May 27, 2008 5:19 AM: 3 best moments for prosecution, defense

The R. Kelly child pornography trial resumes this morning after taking a break for the Memorial Day weekend. Once things get under way, prosecutors will resume their parade of witnesses to identify the female who authorities say is depicted in the sex tape at the heart of the case.

Before we swing back into action, though, it might help to recall some of the highlights from last week. Here are the three best moments from both sides— and what they mean to the trial.

Prosecution's top 3 moments

•Punky: Simha "Punky" Jamison identifies the female participant in the sex tape as her childhood best friend and estimates her to be about 13 or 14 in the video. The defense tries to poke holes in her testimony, but the Oak Park hairstylist refuses to back down. "I kind of know her like the back of my hand," she testifies. Jamison's occasional quips—like her dis of the Wayans Brothers movie "Little Man"—draw laughs in the courtroom.

•Oak Park parents: Three Oak Park parents identify the video's female participant as their daughters' former friend. Though the defense tries to paint them as hysterical rumormongers who whipped themselves into a suburban frenzy, the parents insist they recognize the girl.

•Sparkle: Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards might have an ax to grind with Kelly, but she holds her ground under a full-scale attack by the defense. After identifying a family member as the female participant in the video, Edwards berates Kelly and gets into a shouting match with prominent attorney Ed Genson. Her snarky references to Genson as "sweetie," will keep the courthouse hallways buzzing for weeks.

Defense's top 3 moments

•The dismissed juror: The defense scores a victory before opening statements when a female juror—a white woman who says she had once been raped—asks to be excused for financial reasons. The defense had tried to bounce her from the panel during jury selection, but it ran out of peremptory challenges to boot a candidate without cause. The woman is replaced by a young white man whose uncle has been convicted of child pornography.

•Sam Adam Jr.:Adam has provided some of his team's best moments, even though the other attorneys sitting at the defense table (including his own father) are better known and better paid .From his passionate opening statement to his blistering cross-examination of a police officer who believes her relative is in the sex tape but did not immediately report it, Adam has laid a solid foundation for the R&B singer's still-to-come defense.

•The mole: In a surprise move during opening statements, the defense unveils a police photograph that shows a dark mole on Kelly's lower back and promises jurors it will prove his innocence. When the sex tape is played in real time later that afternoon, the man in the video appears to have an unblemished back. The missing mark has prompted several Internet gossip sites to proclaim: " R. Kelly mole will keep him outta the hole."

Any questions on the high-profile trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly? Ask Stacy and Kayce at rkellytrial@tribune.com and they will answer them here.

Stacy St. Clair

May 23, 2008 12:34 PM: Defense seeks charges against prosecution witness

R. Kelly's attorneys have asked the trial judge to compel Cook County prosecutors to file criminal charges against one of their own witnesses, according to court records.

The prosecution Friday submitted a response to the defense motion, which was originally filed under seal. There was no discussion about the matter in open court and the witness' identity was not revealed.

A gag order in the case prohibits both the defense and prosecutors from speaking with the media.

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan met behind closed-doors with both sides for nearly 30 minutes Friday. He later said the secret discussions involved upcoming testimony and what evidence would be allowed.

Gaughan has defended the private proceedings, saying publicity surrounding the case and the release of inadmissible evidence would deny Kelly a fair trial.

Kelly's attorneys also argued a motion Friday that seeks permission to subpoena Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis, who gave police the videotape at the heart of the case.

The defense wants to ask DeRogatis about what he did with the tape while it was in his possession and whether he made a copy that he later showed to sources.

Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards, a former Kelly protégé and relative of the alleged victim, testified DeRogatis showed her the tape in January 2002. The defense contends the screening took place after DeRogatis provided the video to authorities.

Gaughan has repeatedly said copying and playing child pornography when the newspaper knew police were investigating the matter could be a felony.

"I don't think it's an action protected by the 1st Amendment," the judge said Friday. Sun-Times attorney Damon Dunn said that no one has proven DeRogatis made a copy of the sex tape or played it for Edwards after police became involved. Dunn suggested the defense wants to call DeRogatis as a witness so they can accuse the music critic--who wrote several articles about Kelly's relationships with underage girls--of having a vendetta against Kelly.

"They'd much rather try a reporter than their own defendant," Dunn said.

Stacy St. Clair

May 23, 2008 5:38AM: 5 things you never knew about R. Kelly

Before the R. Kelly trial breaks for the holiday weekend, attorneys will be back in court this morning to take care of some housekeeping matters out of the jury's presence. We'll be back with any updates before noon.

It certainly has been an interesting first week, one filled with a sex tape, forgetful witnesses and Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards' dazzling testimony. Still, few things made a bigger impression on us than the odd tidbits we learned about the R&B superstar. Here are five things we never knew about Kelly before his child pornography trial:

•He does a mad Marlon Brando impression: Edwards testified that Kelly loves "The Godfather" so much, he often puts a ball in the side of his mouth and quotes lines from the 1972 classic. His frequent Brando-as-Don-Corleone impressions prompted Edwards—and later his alleged victim—to refer to him as "godfather."

•He really, really, liked "Space Jam": Kelly's popularity soared in 1996 when he released "I Believe I Can Fly," the theme song to Michael Jordan's live action/animated film, "Space Jam." The singer, it seems, memorialized the movie in a series of murals on the walls of his basement basketball court. According to testimony, the murals featured cartoon characters such as Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. The centerpiece was a painting of Kelly hooping it up against the Tasmanian Devil, with Jordan serving as the referee.

•He forces his basketball buddies into involuntary servitude: Kelly's attorneys revealed that when Kelly is recording an album he keeps his "hangers-on" in the studio at all times in case he feels like playing basketball.

•He might want to see a dermatologist: Simha Jamison, former best friend of Kelly's alleged victim, gave the singer some unsolicited medical advice when she testified against him. Asked to examine a photograph of Kelly's bare torso, Jamison expressed concern over a dark mole on his lower back. "It could be a cancerous mole," said Jamison, an Oak Park hairstylist. Kelly grimaced, then laughed—his first and only guffaw during the first three days of testimony.

•He enjoys a good after-hours prayer session: Kelly's attorneys suggest that a prayer group called "Midnight Missionaries" often came to the studio in the wee hours to pray about topics such as "sin and adultery."

Stacy St. Clair

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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