State prosecutors make plan for their 1st R. Kelly trial

Illinois prosecutors said Wednesday that the first of four Chicago sexual abuse cases against R. Kelly that they'll take to trial involves a hairdresser who says the R&B singer forced himself on her during a 2003 appointment.

Although Cook County prosecutors told Judge Lawrence Frank that they'd begin with the case involving Lanita Carter, who was 24 years old when she says Kelly attacked her, it's possible that the other three accusers -- who all say they were underage when he abused them - could testify at that first trial.

Cook County Judge Lawrence Flood scheduled the first of the four trails to begin on Sept. 14. But with Kelly also facing federal charges in New York and Chicago and state charges in Minnesota, there is no guarantee that the trial will begin then.

Carter contends that during a hair-styling appointment in 2003, Kelly forced her to perform oral sex on him and spit on her. The Associated Press generally doesn't identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Carter, who is referred to in court documents only as “L.C.,” has spoken publicly about the case, including during an interview on “CBS This Morning” last March.

Kelly, who remains jailed and who has denied wrongdoing involving any of his accusers, didn't attend Wednesday's hearing. His attorney, Steve Greenberg, has expressed concern that because of all the cases in the various jurisdictions, it would be difficult to prepare for a September trial.

Prosecutors say the abuse in the four Cook County cases occurred during a roughly 10-year period starting in the late 1990s, Among the crimes he's charged with in the other jurisdictions are producing child pornography, obstruction of justice and racketeering - that charge for allegedly overseeing a scheme in which underlings sought out girls for him.

Kelly's federal trial in Chicago on the child porn and obstruction charges is scheduled to begin on April 27, though the judge left open the possibility of changing that date after Greenberg said preparing for multiple trials may make it impossible for him to be ready by April.

Trial dates have not been set in the other three Cook County cases, meaning it may be several months if not longer before those cases could go to trial. Still, legal experts say there is a good possibility that the accusers in those cases will get to tell their own stories during the first trial if prosecutors get permission to have them testify to provide evidence of similar behavior by Kelly.

“That’s what they (prosecutors) did in the Bill Cosby trial, “ David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law, said. Cosby, a comedian and TV star, was convicted in 2018 of drugging and sexually attacking a former friend after a trial in which other women testified that Cosby had done the same thing to them.

Prosecutors could also ask the judge to try all four cases together, but only if they are arguing that all four cases involved the same type of behavior, as the prosecutors did in the Cosby case, Erickson said.

Joseph Lopez, a prominent Chicago defense attorney who has no ties to any of the Kelly cases, said there is another reason why prosecutors might want to get the other accusers to testify as soon as possible.

“By calling them (to provide) proof of other crimes, they are locking in their testimony in case something happens to them and they can’t testify or they decide later they want to be uncooperative,” he said.