R. Kelly pleads not guilty during hearing, new trial date set for October

Madeline Lauritson
(From left) Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard, defense attorneys for R. Kelly, answer questions from the press after a hearing for Kelly at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Kelly pleaded not guilty to new charges during the hearing.

In a hushed courtroom filled with dozens of fans and supporters, R&B artist R. Kelly pleaded not guilty to an updated, superseding federal indictment as investigators revealed the seizure of approximately 100 electronic devices in a search of Kelly’s storage facility.

During an arraignment hearing on Thursday, March 5 at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn St., Judge Harry Leinenweber moved Kelly’s trial on counts of sexual exploitation of children, conspiracy to defraud the United States, child pornography and female coercion or enticement from April 27 to Oct. 13 to allow the government to prepare additional evidence found during the seizure.

The superseding indictment, which included the same 13 counts against Kelly as the original indictment, added a new  accuser, who was under 18 at the time she was criminally sexually abused, according to the indictment, and removed someone from the list of victims.

Defense attorney Steven Greenberg said in a press conference after the hearing that the changes to the list of victims show a struggle on the government’s part to be consistent in who they claim as victims in the case.

“It’s kind of telling at this late stage to be dropping victims entirely from your case,” Greenberg said. “So we view that as a positive that they can’t get a consistent theory as to who the victims are.”

Kelly has been sued five times, charged on sexual abuse allegations 33 times and has faced 21 counts of sexual assault and abuse, as well as four state and two federal indictments, over the past 30 years.

He is currently in custody in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center, 71 W. Van Buren St., just blocks from Columbia’s dorms.  Kelly also faces an indictment in New York for a racketeering scheme as well as counts of state and federal sexual misconduct charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

During the hearing, prosecutor Angel Krull said the government plans to use the electronic devices as evidence during the next trial in addition to filing more charges in the coming weeks, including adding another alleged victim.

Krull objected to defense attorney Michael Leonard’s request for the witness’ drug and psychiatric records. She said the government has no obligation to provide this.

Milton Brown and Derrel McDavid, Kelly’s associates and co-defendants, also pleaded not guilty to paying thousands of dollars to retrieve pornographic videos in a bid to avoid criminal charges.

After the hearing, shouts of “Free R. Kelly,” “They lying,” “Show me a rape kit” and “Here to support our brother Rob” echoed throughout the first floor of the Dirksen Federal Building.

Madeline Lauritson
Defenders of R&B musician R. Kelly show their support for him after his hearing at the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, Thursday, March 5.

Kelly’s supporters showed up in groups and one woman, Ruth Castro, even came from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Castro wore a homemade R. Kelly necklace and earrings adorned with Kelly’s face, as well as a shirt that read “The Injustice Case of R. Kelly.”

Castro said she believes the women accusing Kelly are “acting.”

“My daughter was abused and when you’re abused you don’t act the way they act,” Castro said. “And then they change their stories.”

Terri Speaks, a supporter of Kelly from St. Louis, Missouri, said she believes Kelly is telling the truth and that it is all about the money. She said she hopes he is let go.

“I know girls like that in my neighborhood … [who] like to mess with older men for money,  to take care of them,” Speaks said. “[They] don’t want to work. ‘Cause who works? None of ‘em.”

But others hope to see Kelly brought to justice.

Jim DeRogatis, associate professor of instruction in the English and Creative Writing Department, has chronicled accusations against Kelly for the past two decades and recently published the book: “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly.”

Tandrey Hawkins, a sophomore music business major at Columbia and Chicago rapper known as T-Star, said Kelly needs to serve time in prison so there is a level of security for the girls who have brought charges against him.

“It has been going on for a very long time and it should have been stopped a long time ago,” Hawkins said. “Hopefully it will be solved in some way, some shape, some form.”

Jocelyn Hudson, a 2019 radio broadcasting alumna, said while she thinks Kelly should be in prison already, at least he is on trial due to significant community advocacy.

“At the end of the day, we hope for justice and I think so far everybody should feel satisfied with themselves, especially as a city,” Hudson said. “Back then, we brushed it off—I think now we can take pride in this. … We united as a city. We united as cultures. We united as females, to put this man behind bars.”