U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly has made a decision that may greatly impact how the upcoming trial of R. Kelly is viewed in the public eye. As jury selection is set to begin in the high-profile trial, Donnelly has announced that members of the public and media will not be allowed in the courtroom during the trial. Instead, members of the jury will be spread out throughout the gallery while members of the media watch the trial unfold from a nearby "overflow" room. Furthermore, both legal teams will sit in their usual spots while witnesses testify from the jury box.
In the "overflow" room, media members will be able to watch the trial as it unfolds from a separate video. However, it is unlikely that journalists will be able to see evidence in the moment that it is presented to the court, a move that could impact how the trial is viewed by the public.
Donnelly's unusual decision is driven by the unusual state of the country. Over the weekend, the U.S. recorded more than 100,00 new COVID-19 cases in a single day for the first time since the winter. Furthermore, the trial is set to take place in New York, a city that has seen a 102% increase in new COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks. Adding on, 83% of the new cases involve the delta variant of the coronavirus. Donnelly believes that she is "ensuring public safety during a global health pandemic" by spreading out the jurors throughout the courtroom.
Jury selection for the upcoming trial is set to begin on August 9 and opening arguments are expected to start on August 18. Kelly is facing a number of charges including racketeering, sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and sex trafficking.