Lisa Van Allen and her fiancé, Yul Brown, were driving away from a Fogo de Châo in Atlanta when the hip-hop ­station on their car radio broke for a news bulletin.

“Take your R. Kelly CDs out,” the DJ crowed. “He has been found not guilty.”

Brown pulled his BMW into the emergency lane. Damn. The jury had only taken a few hours to let him go on all 14 counts of child pornography. Van Allen had flown up to Chicago, four months pregnant, and told her truth about R. Kelly: how he’d seduced her when she was just 17, how he’d forced her to participate in a threesome with the girl who appeared on the sex tape, how he’d taped that little orgy. And the jury hadn’t believed a word. They’d believed Kelly’s lawyers, who called Van Allen a streetwalker and quoted the Bible to compare her to Satan.

Van Allen didn’t want to see Kelly in prison. She wanted him to get help for his teenage-girl fixation. That’s not something you can just turn off, she felt; it’s a sexual preference. And beating this rap might convince him he was above the age-of-consent law.

Two thousand miles away, at a Whole Foods Market in Las Vegas, Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards heard her cell phone chime. A text message: R. Kelly not guilty. Sparkle, who duetted with Kelly on the 1998 hit “Be Careful,” had testified out of remorse. That was her niece on the sex tape, she maintained. The niece she’d introduced to Kelly when the girl was just 12. Sparkle had prayed that God would help her accept the verdict. But her worldly side wanted Kelly held accountable, and she felt defeated. Her last gig was as a backup singer in Toni Braxton’s Las Vegas revue, which closed in April. Kelly was the Pied Piper of R&B, with 33 million albums sold. How could her testimony compete with his money? Sparkle believed her niece’s family had been accepting gifts from Kelly. The girl’s father had been given a spot as Kelly’s guitarist.

Van Allen and Sparkle were the ladies in red at R. Kelly’s trial—an ex-lover and a one-time protégée who rolled over on their old friend. Kelly’s lawyers portrayed them as bitter, discarded women out to extort money from a superstar. They were the key witnesses in the month-long prosecution of Robert Kelly, a campaign that failed when a jury found him not guilty of pissing on the teenage girl he called his goddaughter, and making a video­tape of the event. Now that it’s over, it’s worth asking the question: Did R. Kelly piss on justice?

When R. Kelly was arrested in 2002 on charges of child pornography, back before the U.S. invaded Iraq, radio stations stopped playing his music and preachers held CD-snapping rallies. By the time his trial started, six years later, the outrage had dwindled to a pair of Muslims standing in front of the Cook County Criminal Courts Building with a sign dishonoring Kelly as the World’s Greatest Pedophile. They were outnumbered—and outshouted—by young women there to squeal at Kelly.

Kelly’s black Escalade glided to the curb. The girls surged.

“We love you, Rob!” Jerhonda Johnson cried, earning a stiff-armed wave from Kelly.

Johnson was 18—with the ID to prove it—and planned to spend the next few weeks at the courthouse, testing her personal system of justice: If he’s hot, he must be innocent.

“I’ve seen that tape. That ain’t him on that tape. He wouldn’t do nothin’ like that,” Johnson said.

“So what would you say if R. Kelly asked you out?” I inquired.“Yes! He ain’t even gotta finish the sentence.”

“What if he wanted to tape you?”

Johnson paused a beat.

“Just don’t let it go public.”

The building where Kelly stood trial is a Romanesque ­temple built in the 1920s, Chicago’s original gangster era—it housed Al Capone before he went to Alcatraz. Cops and gangbangers alike call it 26th and California, after the forlorn street corner it dominates. Kelly was 26th and Cal’s most famous visitor since John Wayne Gacy was sentenced to death there in 1980. In acknowledgement of Kelly’s stardom, the handicap ramp was designated the R. Kelly entrance, so paparazzi wouldn’t knock over mopes climbing the stairs to plead on shoplifting.

In acknowledgement of Kelly’s alleged home-taping hobby, Courtroom 500 had been outfitted with a big-screen TV worthy of a sports bar. On Day 1, the prosecution planned the first legal showing of People’s Exhibit 1—the so-called R. Kelly Sex Tape.

Assistant State’s Attorney Shauna Boliker set the scene. Boliker, a high-school homecoming queen who grew up to prosecute pervs and creeps, is known around the courthouse for her caffeinated sunniness. But her opening statement was a grim plea that strained her squeaky voice.

“It is Reshona Landfair and Robert Kelly that you will see on this videotape,” she said, naming the alleged victim, who the prosecution believed was 13 or 14 in the tape. “You will see the sex acts that he commanded Reshona Landfair to perform—vile and disturbing and disgusting acts. You will see that underage child performing acts that you have never seen before.”

At 35, Sam Adam Jr. was the youngest member of Kelly’s four-man defense team, but he was sent out for the opening statement—perhaps because his multiracial background might appeal to a jury of eight whites and four blacks. Rotund and bombastic, Sam Jr. performed like a man who supplemented his legal studies by watching Al Pacino in … And Justice for All.

“Rrrrobert Kelly … is not on that tape,” Sam Jr. declaimed. He showed the jury a booking photo of Kelly’s lower back. To the left of the spine was a mole the size of a crushed fly. “There’s a section in this tape where the man stands up and his back is illuminated,” Sam Jr. said. “There is no mole! That means one thing: It is not Robert, or he’s some kind of magician.

”Deputies dimmed the lights and drew the blinds, as though Courtroom 500 was about to see something best hidden from other courtrooms.

0:05—Scene: a wood-paneled basement with a hot tub.

0:11—The man alleged to be R. Kelly (hereafter Alleged Kelly) hands stack of bills to female alleged to be a teenager (hereafter Alleged Teen Girl). She mouths “thank you,” further expresses gratitude with fellatio.

4:11—Alleged Teen Girl stands on hot-tub cover, grinding hips to Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” “Dance faster, then, baby,” Alleged Kelly moans.

5:20—Camera zooms on Alleged Teen Girl’s crotch. She pees on floor until Alleged Kelly orders, “Stop it.”

7:00—Alleged Kelly walks into picture, drops orange warm-up pants. Alleged Teen Girl straddles him.

11:33—Him: “Daddy fuck you?” Her: “Yes, Daddy.”

20:52—Alleged Kelly urinates in Alleged Girl’s mouth. Not enjoying the taste, she purses lips and squinches nose.

23:08—In gentlemanly gesture, Alleged Kelly wipes her breasts with a towel.

24:44—The money shot. Alleged Kelly ejaculates on Alleged Girl’s chest. Wipes off chest.

Imagine your minister preaching against child porn while a Traci Lords movie plays above the pulpit. That was the discomfort level. A bald spectator clenched his arms, reddening to the crown. A young woman crossed her legs, watching with a hard look of disgust. Kelly looked bored. If you believed the prosecution, he’d seen this one before.

During the lunch recess, Kelly walked out to the bathroom with his bodyguards. Girls in the hallway screeched and waved.

“Ladies, into the elevator,” a deputy ordered.

Jerhonda Johnson left the courtroom shaking her head.

“It ain’t him on that tape,” she said.

Another girl stared daggers at Johnson’s SPECTATOR badge.

“Ooh, I’ll beat her up and take her pass,” she vowed.

The video was followed by Dan Everett, a retired Chicago police detective. Everett identified the girl as Reshona Landfair. When Boliker asked where he’d seen her before, the tongue-tied officer uttered a forbidden word: “investigation.”

In 2000, police began looking into reports that Kelly was having sex with Landfair. (Landfair refused to cooperate, which is why Kelly was on trial for child pornography—for making the tape itself—and not statutory rape.) But that was inadmissible, since it had nothing to do with the tape. Judge Vincent Gaughan, a crusty Vietnam War hero who ran his courtroom like an infantry platoon, sent the jury away and chewed out the red-faced detective.

“If you say it again, I’ll declare a mistrial,” he warned.

The jury never heard about the investigation. Nor did they hear about Kelly’s marriage to Aaliyah when she was 15, or the three underage girls who sued Kelly after alleged sexual ­relationships, or Kelly’s arrest on charges of possessing child pornography in Florida (the charges were eventually dropped). Their job was to answer one question: Were Robert and Reshona on that tape?

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The ugly word in the Chicago music world was that, yeah, Kells fooled with that girl, but he did it with her family’s knowledge. As one radio host put it, “They pimped her out.” The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the state’s child-welfare agency, investigated the allegations but ran into the same wall of silence as the police.

One relative who did cooperate was Sparkle. And now she was here to air the family’s dirty laundry. Straight from Vegas, she diva’d it up for the witness stand: hair pulled taut, hoop earrings, spike heels, miniskirt and—in what may have been a first for 26th and California—her trademark Swarovski crystal, glittering below her left eye, like a tear.

It was a family with big musical ambitions, she explained. Along with three cousins, Reshona was a member of 4 the Cause, which had a hit in Germany with a cover of “Stand by Me.” Sparkle had sung backup on Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number. In late 1997, she was recording her debut album with Kelly.

One evening, at the end of a session, Sparkle asked Reshona’s parents, Greg and Valerie, to bring the girl down to the studio, “because I wanted him to hear her rap.”

Kelly had written Sparkle’s signature song, “Be Careful.” Her debut on Kelly’s label did well enough, but she wanted to work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Kelly didn’t appreciate rivals. Sparkle put out one poorly received follow-up, on Motown, then disappeared from the industry.

This turncoat required the spine-removal tactics of a veteran interrogator. Edward Genson, Kelly’s lead attorney, stood up. Genson began his career as a Clarence Darrow wannabe but found his calling when he helped Jimmy “the Bomber” Catuara, an Outfit racketeer, beat a federal fraud charge. That made him the Mob’s man at 26th and Cal. Recently, Genson defended press baron Conrad Black, who is now doing time in a federal prison. He needed this win to justify his $700-an-hour fee. Since he suffers from dystonia, a neurological disorder, Genson navigates the courthouse on a motorized scooter. But he’s strong enough to limp to a lectern. It wins the jury’s sympathy, he once said.

Spreading out his papers like a conductor with his sheet music, Genson accused Sparkle of fabricating the tape with Kelly’s ex-manager, Barry Hankerson, as a shakedown scheme. This was a variation on the Little Man defense, trotted out the day before: Sam Jr. had suggested that a special-effects wizard might have morphed Kelly’s head into the tape, in the same fashion that Marlon Wayans’s head was grafted onto a midget. He was nearly laughed onto California.

“You have no idea if that tape was put together from tapes of old footage, tapes of other people, in order to make money off Robert, do you?” Genson asked.

“Sir, that’s Robert and Reshona on that tape,” Sparkle replied. “I know my family.”“

You know and believe that your niece had Robert give her money to have sex?” Genson prodded.

“Just like he made her do. She’s a robot on this tape.”

“You know that your niece is taking money for sex?”

“I know who made the tape,” Sparkle said. “Robert made the tape.”

“He passed her money—”

“Like a prostitute!” Sparkle wailed.

After the verdict, Sparkle told Blender that her family had covered up for Kelly to preserve its connection to a music-­industry big shot. But they had more personal motives, too. “They were humiliated,” she said.

Greg Landfair’s career benefitted from his association with Kelly. Greg played guitar on four albums—R., TP-2.com, Chocolate Factory and TP.3 Reloaded—two of which came out after Kelly was charged with possession of child pornography.

Sparkle believes “without a doubt” that the Landfairs received money from Kelly and says that Reshona, now 23, has become a “fixture” at Kelly’s suburban compound, a hip-hop Playboy mansion with a shark tank, game room, theater, recording studio and an indoor pool.

“I set up everything with my family, in hopes that R. Kelly would help us musically,” Sparkle said.

Soon after meeting Kelly, Reshona was hanging out at Trax studios, telling Sparkle that her mother had dropped her off or her father was playing guitar. When Kelly’s entourage related concerns of an affair, Sparkle confronted Reshona’s mother.

“I told my sister, ‘Look, Val, you’ve got to keep an eye on her, because there are rumors,’” Sparkle said. “She would say to me, ‘He would never do anything like that. He’s her godfather.’”

The tape divided a family that had once gathered for Sunday dinners. After Sparkle was shown a copy of the tape in 2001 by an associate of a Chicago personal-injury lawyer, she tried to persuade her siblings to watch it as well. Only her brother ­Bennie—who also testified for the prosecution—agreed. Greg and Valerie refused. They no longer speak to Sparkle. Neither does Reshona. Sparkle last saw her niece two years ago, at the home of the girl’s grandparents. Reshona looked away, put her head down and walked out the door.

Before his trial, Kelly had always been able to buy his way out of teenage-sex lawsuits, at up to $250,000 a girl, according to press reports. His weakness, and his willingness to settle, created an R. Kelly extortion industry. Lisa Van Allen, whatever the truth of her claim to sex with Kelly, was part of it.

On the day Van Allen was scheduled to testify, spectators bickered over seats. They went home frustrated. Instead of salacious tales from Kelly’s seraglio, they heard … a forensic video expert. Grant Fredericks identified 17 frames in which Kelly’s mole was visible. Kelly’s lawyers looked like they’d been lined up against an adobe wall. “We thought we were getting the dessert, but we got the meat,” a reporter whispered. “This could be the day that convicts him.”

By quarter to 7, the sex-chat crowd had gone home. Only ­Jerhonda Johnson and her Best Friend for the Trial, Keyonia Jones, remained in the courtroom, slumped against each other for support. All they ever got from Kelly was a smile and a curt nod. Those were real fans.

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Lisa Van Allen finally appeared on a Monday morning. If Van Allen ever dreamed of stardom, she found it outside 26th and California. Dressed in a black baby-doll outfit stretched over her pregnant belly, she clutched the hand of Brown, who had to be six-foot-three, 265 pounds to contain all the roles he played for her: lover, bodyguard, business manager, fellow fashion victim. Brown wore a five-button iridescent sea-green suit that glowed red wherever the sunlight caught it.

Van Allen wasn’t there to drop a dime on Kelly, she was there to drop $100,000—the amount, it came out after the trial, she claimed Kelly had paid her for a tape of their ménage à trois.

Van Allen was a 17-year-old aspiring singer when she showed up at the bacchanal 1998 “Home Alone” video shoot in Atlanta. (You can see her hoisting a glass when Kelly shouts, “Drinks in the air!”) The teenager caught Kelly’s eye and was invited to his trailer. Their courtship was brief—“we talked a little while, then we had intercourse,” she testified—then the recently married Kelly invited her to Chicago to join his stable of mistresses. On the Get Up on a Room tour, Van Allen simulated sex with Kelly onstage. In the “I Wish” video, she braided Kelly’s hair.

Then he offered her a bigger role, in another video. One night, according to Van Allen, Kelly drove her from Trax, where she lived in a second-floor apartment, to his house on Chicago’s North Side. The flat-roofed building had begun life as a church, but Kelly converted it to a pleasure palace, with a pool, a basketball court featuring a mural of Kelly going one-on-one with the Tasmanian Devil (a tribute to Space Jam, the launching pad for one of his biggest hits, “I Believe I Can Fly”)—and a wood-paneled hot-tub room. Waiting there, Van Allen testified, was an even younger girl. Kelly set up the video camera, and “we had sex … Reshona Landfair, myself and Robert.”

One of the last times Van Allen saw Kelly was in Atlanta, where she swiped a $20,000 Rolex from their hotel room. She took another souvenir from the relationship: a tape of their threesome, lifted from a duffel bag full of porn Kelly carried to the gym and the studio.

At the defense table, Kelly listened with an angry look of betrayal.

To prove Van Allen was gold-digging trash, Kelly’s team sent its meanest dog into the pit. Sam Adam Sr.—Sam Jr.’s dad—grilled witnesses with a harsh bellow that could make a Psalm sound obscene. He was preceded into every room by a belly that had taken 72 years to grow. Sam Sr. liked to boast that “I dress like the jurors.” His favorite garment was a burgundy sport coat that looked like a wine stain with arms. For this encounter, he wore a gray suit.

Sam Sr. led Van Allen through a cross-examination that laid out her grifter credentials: In 2007, she claimed, Kelly offered her a six-figure sum for her three­some tape, which was in the possession of two Kansas City characters named Chuck and Keith. Keith flew it to Chicago, where Kelly’s business manager made the payoff.

“Where is Keith?” Sam Sr. demanded. “How can I get ahold of him?”

Van Allen recited his phone number. That night, every reporter called it. And thus began another episode of Let’s Rip Off Rob.

Chuck and Keith are Charles Freeman and Keith Murrell. Freeman was a former Kelly associate who had sued him after he alleges he received less than half of the $140,000 he was promised for recovering the sex tape that provoked this trial. Kelly settled the suit. Murrell was a member of Talent, an R&B act that was signed to Kelly’s Rockland Records, and sang backup for 2Pac. The duo promised a press conference in Chicago—but gave a different location to every reporter. Chuck told the Tribune to meet him in Joliet, about 50 miles from the Loop. He told MTV News and Blender to meet him at the Rock ’n’ Roll McDonald’s—one of Kelly’s favorite spots. That’s where, in 1998, he met 16-year-old Patrice Jones, after her high-school prom. A few years later, they settled out of court after he allegedly got her pregnant.

On the restaurant’s second floor, I spotted a man in a red Kansas City Royals cap.

“Are you Chuck?” I asked.

He stood up. He was wearing a kung fu dragon sweatshirt and a chest full of stainless-steel bling.

“He’ll be here in a minute.”

“OK, I was told to meet Chuck here.”

“I’m Chuck,” Chuck admitted. “You’re not a cop, are you?”

“No, I’m from Blender.” I showed him my press card.

“Kelly’s people are watching us here,” Chuck said. “We better do this at the Hard Rock Cafe. It’s right across the street. Meet me there in five minutes.”

I waited, then followed, along with the MTV reporter.“This place isn’t safe,” Chuck said. “I’m going to get into a cab. You guys get into a cab and follow me.”

The MTV reporter was frustrated. With Chuck’s consent, she’d already ordered a TV crew. It was waiting in a van across the street. We offered to do the interview on a remote Chicago beach, far from Kelly’s spies.

“I’m getting a cab,” Chuck said. “Call me in five minutes.”Five minutes later, we called Chuck. There was no answer.“We were totally used,” I told the MTV reporter, as we waited in the McDonald’s parking lot. “Those guys are trying to get more money out of R. Kelly. They wanted him to think they’d talk to the press, and they wanted him to know they had our attention. That’s why Chuck told you to bring the van. They got what they wanted. We’re never going to hear from them again.”

And I didn’t—until a month later, after Kelly was found not guilty. Chuck called me at 2 a.m. to report that he was suing his old boss again. Chuck alleges that Kelly had hired him to track down more sex tapes and that he promised to pay up after the trial and was welshing on the deal.

In recently unsealed court documents, Van Allen told a more detailed version of the sale of the threesome tape. She claimed that she and Murrell received 100 grand each. She also says that on their first trip to Chicago, they only received $20,000, because Keith flunked a lie-detector test. Apparently, he had made a copy. They’d get the rest of the money when that was turned over. But Derrel McDavid, Kelly’s business manager, only gave her 50 grand.

“If you want the other $30,000,” he said, “you’ll have to fly back to Chicago.”

In the documents, Van Allen says she met McDavid at a law office, where he said he should have “murked” her. Taking that as a death threat, she broke into tears. Finally, McDavid told Van Allen she could have the rest of her money if she denied having sex with Reshona Landfair. Van Allen swore out a statement.

McDavid is rumored to be under investigation for buying and concealing evidence that could have been used against Kelly. During the trial, he was a fixture in the courtroom. At the time, no one could figure out what he did. Asked his function, McDavid said, “I don’t exist,” adding, “Prosecutors don’t wear suits this nice.”

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He also had this to say about Lisa Van Allen: “Van Allen is an admitted thief and liar who wouldn’t know the truth if she tripped over it.

”Van Allen’s testimony was less interesting for its prurience (although that was pretty interesting) than for its insight into the hollowness of Kelly’s personal life. Kelly doesn’t seem to form friendships as much as engage in transactions. The witness list was a small group of the people he’s burned through. Kelly exploited them, and they exploited him right back. When they realized he wasn’t going to repay them with fame, or love, they demanded money. The defense pews were filled with bodyguards and record execs, but no friends or family. Certainly not his wife, Andrea, who’s divorcing him. Kelly’s collaborators include Snoop Dogg and Ludacris, but the only entertainer who showed was Eric Lane—Twan, the ex-con from “Trapped in the Closet.”

Fourteen witnesses identified R. Kelly and Reshona Landfair on the sex tape. Simha “Punky” Jamison, Landfair’s longtime friend, testified that she and Reshona visited Kelly “dozens of times” at his gym, his studio and his house. Lindsey Perryman, Kelly’s former personal assistant, told of Landfair showing up at Kelly’s house with an overnight bag.

By way of rebuttal, the defense summoned three of Landfair’s relatives. They all told the same story: Robert and Reshona aren’t on the tape. They stuck to it even when Boliker asked them to compare a photo of Landfair in a 4 the Cause video with a photo of the sex-tape girl. The portraits looked identical: turned-up nose, chubby cheeks and chin, hair cut over the ears.

“I don’t [recognize her],” said Leroy Edwards Jr., Landfair’s uncle and 4 the Cause’s manager. “They’re not the same.”

Sam Adam Jr. was sent out to deliver Kelly’s closing argument, too. Unlike the gilded Genson, Sam Jr. keeps it real on the South Side, working out of a basement, with a mailbox missing the letter M. The final week of the trial, Sam Jr. was in an ebullient mood. Kelly often passed through the press row on his way to the defense table. A TV reporter was intrigued by the scent of his cologne. So she asked Sam Jr. for the brand.

“Urine!” he said, then walked off, cackling.

On closing day, Sam Jr. brought his wife to court.

“We’re making a tape,” he joked, as he introduced her around. “But she’s legal!”

Sam Jr.’s closing argument was like a brilliant-actor’s ­autobiographical one-man show: It was histrionic, it was entertaining, and it took creative liberties with the story. He bellowed, he whispered, he quoted the Bible like a preacher and waved the flag like the grand marshal of a Fourth of July parade.

Sam Jr. insisted that Lindsey Perryman never saw Van Allen on tour—but didn’t mention that they accompanied the singer on different tours. He misused a Bible verse about temptations—“Satan will come disguised as an angel of light”—to compare Van Allen to the devil. He insisted that Landfair couldn’t be on the tape, because any normal 13-year-old would have bragged to her friends about screwing a 31-year-old Grammy winner. And her relatives would have broken Kelly’s legs. (The singer, it should be noted, lives in a gated compound, with bodyguards.) Kelly nodded approvingly throughout the speech.

But Sam Jr. didn’t need the facts. He had the trial’s most important piece of information—or missing information: Reshona Landfair had never appeared in court to affirm or recant her six-year-old grand-jury testimony, when she’d sworn she wasn’t on the tape.

“What evidence do you have that it isn’t her?” Sam Jr. asked the jury. “You have Reshona Landfair. She was placed under oath at the age of 15 or 16, she saw that tape and said, ‘It’s not me.’”

On the day the verdict came in, Kelly added an accessory to his tailored suit: a Carolina-blue handkerchief, billowing from the breast pocket like a flag marking his heart.

The jury bell rang at half-past one. Kelly held hands with his lawyers, forming an expensively dressed prayer chain. At every “not guilty,” he whispered, “Thank you, Jesus.” By the time he stood up to hug Genson, the damp handkerchief was limp in his fingers.

There was a triumphant walk down the R. Kelly ramp. Kelly patted his heart, while a hundred fans cheered and strutted. Women wagged their index fingers, declaring victory for Kelly and scolding his haters. His SUV had to weave around a woman who’d covered the trial for a German hip-hop Web site and was unburdening herself of objectivity by leaping in the air and flinging open her jacket to reveal … an R. Kelly T-shirt!

Jerhonda and Keyonia met Kelly at his bus—Keyonia brought her 2-year-old son, Robert. Finally, they got a hug.“

R. Kelly got his name back, and Reshona never had to lose hers,” Sam Adam Jr. said at a post-trial press conference.

Genson’s defeated counterpart, Shauna Boliker, said that “if we do anything with this prosecution, we show the world how difficult [child pornography] is to prosecute. It takes the soul of a victim, the heart of a victim, and they often don’t want to participate, because of the humiliation.”

Sam Adam Jr. made his bones at the trial: The torch was passed to a new generation of lawyers who’ll get the phone call when a rich guy is caught with his pants down. But his closing argument hadn’t won the day. It hadn’t even been necessary. The defense hadn’t been necessary—which may be why its case lasted only two days, as opposed to the prosecution’s seven. R. Kelly’s freedom was guaranteed before the trial ever started, because Landfair wouldn’t testify.

“Initially, I voted guilty because I thought it was R. Kelly on the tape,” juror Bruce Hutcherson said afterward. “I still think that. What held me back was Reshona. It wasn’t 100 percent the way her childhood friends identified her. That played heavily on my thoughts.”

Another juror, who asked not to be named, said “the absence of Reshona and her family was a major lack of evidence.”

Five days after the trial ended, most of its players reassembled at a Chicago tavern for a wrap party thrown by Terry Sullivan, a former prosecutor who’d served as the judge’s media liaison. Gaughan was in the center of the room, in a wide-lapel suit with an American Legion pin. The judge cracked jokes with a reporter he’d kicked out of his courtroom and hammed for a buddy shot with an NPR correspondent, who posted the photo on her Facebook page. Sam Adam Jr. made his way to the bar for a free drink. Boliker chatted with journalists, most of whom had predicted Kelly would go down. Everyone seemed relieved that the trial was finally over, after six years.

Missing, of course, was the man who’d brought all these people together. R. Kelly had thrown his own after party, at Grand Lux Cafe on Michigan Avenue. (MTV’s Sway was there. He posed for a be-strong handshake photo with Kelly and ran it on the music channel’s Web site.) These days, he’s trying to stay away from lawyers.