Mole defense takes hits at Kelly trial

June 2, 2008 5:53:58 AM PDT
It was R. Kelly's own attorney who raised the issue at the start of the R&B superstar's child pornography trial: If you don't see a fingernail-sized mole on the lower back of the man in the sex tape at the center of the case, then that man isn't Kelly.

Jurors last week watched a 4-by-4 foot monitor where freeze frames of the man's back were shown. And there, just above his waistline, was a mark that forensics expert Grant Fredericks said appeared to be a mole. He compared the frames with 2002 police photos of Kelly's back, concluding the spots were "in the exact same position."

The testimony was among the most dramatic yet in the three-week-old trial and potentially the most damaging for Kelly. It seemed the defense had been caught in a trap they'd set themselves, and Kelly and his lawyers appeared disheartened as they looked on. Kelly, 41, frequently appeared bored during hours of technical testimony about the 27-minute video last week. But he looked more attentive, if stressed, on Thursday when Fredericks addressed the mole issue.

Kelly, who won a Grammy Award in 1997 for the song "I Believe I Can Fly" and whose biggest hits are raunchy ballads like "Ignition," is charged with child pornography for allegedly videotaping himself having sex with a female who prosecutors say was as young as 13. He's pleaded not guilty and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Both Kelly and the alleged victim, who is now 23, deny it's them in the video.

There was no testimony Friday or over the weekend, and the trial was set to resume Monday.

Kelly's attorneys still have a chance to try to revive their mole defense when they start calling their own witnesses.

During May 20 opening statements, defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. was emphatic on the question of the mole.

"Either Robert isn't the man on that tape or he's a magician - because there's no mole," Adam had said, referring to Kelly by his birth name.

Adam, pacing before jurors, his voice booming, instructed jurors to look for the mole on the graphic video, which was entered into evidence by prosecutors as "People's Exhibit No. 1" and played in open court after opening statements.

Defense attorney Ed Genson grilled Fredericks in cross-examination Thursday, suggesting that the spot in the video faded in and out of view and arguing that it could have been a technical imperfection on the tape.

"The spot - it's there, it's not there. It's there, it's not there," Genson said, pointing to a monitor as it played successive frames of the tape where a man turns his back to the camera and begins taking off his pants.

The mole wasn't the only focus of scrutiny.

Witnesses for the prosecution last week also countered claims by the defense that Kelly's likeness could have been computer generated - in the same way Hollywood technicians create realistic-looking characters in movies.

Fredericks and another forensics expert testified that digitally altering the nearly half-hour video - 100,000 frames on the entire footage - would be practically impossible, requiring that someone to go through each frame to calibrate everything from shadows to blinks of an eye so that they all move in perfect sync.

Fredericks estimated that fabricating such a film would take 44 years to complete - meaning someone would have had to start the project before Kelly was born.