Jury Finds R Kelly Not Guilty

R. Kelly was acquitted of all charges Friday after less than a day of deliberations in his child pornography trial, ending a six-year ordeal for the R&B superstar.

Kelly dabbed his face with a handkerchief and hugged each of his four attorneys after the verdict — not guilty on all 14 counts — was read. The Grammy award-winning singer had faced 15 years in prison if convicted.

Minutes later, surrounded by bodyguards, he left the courthouse without comment. Dozens of fans screamed and cheered as he climbed into a waiting SUV.

Prosecutors had argued that a video tape mailed to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002 showed Kelly engaged in graphic sex acts with a girl as young as 13 at the time. Both Kelly, 41, and the now 23-year-old alleged victim had denied they were the ones on the tape. Neither testified during the trial.

The prosecution's star witness was a woman who said she engaged in three-way sex with Kelly and the alleged victim. Defense attorneys argued the man on the tape didn't have a large mole on his back; Kelly has such a mole.

The monthlong trial centered on whether Kelly was the man who appears on a sexually graphic, 27-minute videotape at the heart of the case, and whether a female who also appears on it was underage.

Over seven days presenting their case, prosecutors called 22 witnesses, including several childhood friends of the alleged victim and four of her relatives who identified her as the female on the video.

In just two days, Kelly's lawyers called 12 witnesses. They included three relatives of the alleged victim who testified they did not recognize her as the female on the tape.

Kelly won a Grammy in 1997 for "I Believe I Can Fly," and is known for such raunchy hits as "Bump N' Grind," "Ignition," and for "Trapped in the Closet," a multipart saga about the sexual secrets of an ever-expanding cast of characters.

Of the 12 jurors, nine were men and three were women; eight were white and four were black. They included the wife of a Baptist preacher from Kelly's Chicago-area hometown, Olympia Fields, as well as a compliance officer for a Chicago investment firm and a man in his 60s who emigrated from then-Communist Romania nearly 40 years ago.

Despite his legal troubles, Kelly — who rose from poverty on Chicago's South Side to become a star singer, songwriter and producer — still retains a huge following, and his popularity has arguably grown in recent years.

The singer has released more than half a dozen albums, most of them selling over a million copies. He's also had a multitude of hits and gone on tours. Kelly has a new song, "Hair Braider," out now, and is due to release a new album in July.

Kelly, always meticulously dressed in a suit and tie, appeared tense at times during the trial, furrowing his brow. He seemed particularly ill at ease when prosecutors played the sex tape in open court after opening arguments.

In the video, entered into evidence as "People's Exhibit No. 1," a man has sex with a young female, who is naked for most of the recording. She is often blank-faced. The man speaks to her in a hushed voice, and she calls him "Daddy."

In one scene, alluded to in one count of the indictment, the man urinates on the female.

The issue of whether there was or wasn't a fingernail-sized mole on the man's lower was a subject of hours of testimony. A defense witness told jurors there was no mole on his back, proving it's not Kelly, who has such a mole. But a prosecution witness displayed freeze frames of the video where a dark spot seemed to appear as the man turns to take off his pants.

One surreal moment came when a defense expert played a segment of the tape he doctored showing two headless bodies engaging in sex. The defense said that backed their argument that Kelly's likeness could have been computer-generated.

Cross examination was often heated. Several witnesses cried on the stand.

The star prosecution witness, Lisa Van Allen, became teary eyed as she told jurors she engaged in several three-way sexual encounters with Kelly and the alleged victim, including once on a basketball court. Kelly videotaped the trysts, she said.

Van Allen also claimed Kelly used to carry a duffel bag stuffed full of his homemade sex tapes.

The defense called several witnesses in a bid to discredit Van Allen, accusing her of trying to extort money from Kelly. Under cross-examination, Van Allen admitted she once stole Kelly's $20,000 diamond-studded watch from a hotel.

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Robert Mugabe Threatens Violence If He Loses Election

President Robert Mugabe said Friday that his supporters are ready to fight if the opposition wins an upcoming presidential runoff election, hardening the rhetoric of a campaign that already has seen widespread violence against government opponents.

"I'm even prepared to join the fight," the 84-year-old Mugabe told a conference of his party's youth wing.

Mugabe said the veterans of the war of independence in 1980 had approached him after the first round of voting in March and threatened to take up arms again if opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai wins the June 27 runoff.

Tsvangirai finished first in a field of four in the first round but failed to win the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

"We can't allow the British to dominate us through their puppets," said Mugabe, returning to a campaign theme of portraying Tsvangirai as a pawn of Western powers, a charge the opposition denies. "A vote for the (opposition) is a vote for the British to have once again not just a foothold but real power."

A High Court judge, meanwhile, ordered police to bring No. 2 opposition leader Tendai Biti to court Saturday and explain why he should not be immediately released, according to opposition lawyer Selby Hwacha.

Biti was arrested Thursday upon returning to Zimbabwe from neighboring South Africa. The United States was among the governments that said the arrest of the top aide to Tsvangirai only deepened concerns the runoff would not be free and fair.

Since picking up Biti at the airport Thursday, police have refused to say where he was being held or when they might bring him to court. They have said he faces a charge of treason, which can carry the death penalty.

Tsvangirai, speaking on the campaign trail Friday, called the charge Biti faces "frivolous."

"Tendai has not committed any crime, he has not committed any offense to warrant the arrest," the candidate said.

The party said Tsvangirai himself was released overnight after being detained by police.

Tsvangirai was stopped twice by police as he tried to campaign Thursday, according to the party, which said he was held for about two hours the first time and late into the night the second time before being released. Such incidents have become common as Tsvangirai attempts to reach out to voters, and the opposition says 66 of its supporters have been killed.

In 2004, Tsvangirai was acquitted after a treason trial that lasted more than a year.

Botswana, a fellow member of the Southern African Development Community, was the first neighbor to condemn Biti's arrest. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to express its concern.

"Botswana is alarmed by these arrests and detentions as they disrupt electoral activities of key players and intimidate the electorate thus undermining the process of holding a free, fair and democratic election," said Clifford Maribe, ministry spokesman.

It was unusually strong language from a fellow African government. Zimbabwe's neighbors, particularly regional power South Africa, have for the most part refused to confront Mugabe.

The arrest of Biti and police harassment of Tsvangirai are the latest examples of efforts by Mugabe's government to defeat the opposition. The harassment has included using security forces to confiscate a large U.S. food donation and giving it to Mugabe supporters in a country where many people are poor.

The United States, long a sharp critic of Mugabe, said Thursday that whatever pressure the neighbors had so far brought to bear had been ineffective. It called for immediate action by the U.N. Security Council.

News emerged that a 20-ton shipment of U.S.-donated grain, beans and oil being sent to a school in eastern Zimbabwe was hijacked by security forces and then passed out to Mugabe backers at a rally last week.

In Washington, officials said the United States, which now holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, would try to raise the Zimbabwe issue next week.

U.S. Ambassador James McGee said Friday the clampdown on aid work has left some people surviving on less than one meal a day.

"The situation right now is bad and it's continuing to get worse," McGee told reporters in a conference call from Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. "If this continues much beyond the elections, it will be disastrous for Zimbabwe."

Aid group World Vision, which has projects across the country, appealed to the government Friday to allow delivery of basic humanitarian assistance by reversing the suspension.

"As a child-focused organization, we are particularly concerned for the close to 400,000 children we would have assisted this month through school-feeding and our ongoing development work," said Wilfred Mlay, vice president for Africa for World Vision. "We hold grave concerns for the 1.6 million orphans and vulnerable children across the country who will now not receive critical assistance from humanitarian agencies operating in the country."

World Vision said the suspension was keeping more than 30 groups from delivering food and other aid. It said up to 4 million people are in need of aid.

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