UNITED STATES NEWS

Federal judge who presided over R. Kelly trial dead at 87 after battling lung cancer

Jun 12, 2024, 12:32 PM

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, who presided over singer R. Kelly’s trial on child sex abuse charges, has died. He was 87.

Leinenweber died Tuesday evening, the eastern division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said in a statement. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Leinenweber had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year and died at the Florida home he shared with his wife.

“Judge Harry D. Leinenweber was a friend, mentor and model jurist,” Northern District of Illinois Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer said in the statement. “My colleagues and I are deeply saddened by Judge Leinenweber’s passing. We hope for comfort and peace for his family. We thank his family for sharing him with us for over 39 years.”

President Ronald Reagan nominated Leinenweber, a former state lawmaker, to the bench in 1985. He took senior status, a form of semi-retirement, in 2002 but continued to work.

He presided over Kelly’s trial in 2022. Prosecutors accused the Grammy Award-winning singer of producing sexually explicit videos of children and enticing girls for sex. The trial went on for a month before jurors ultimately convicted Kelly of six of 13 counts against him.

The verdict came months after a federal judge in New York sentenced Kelly to 30 years in prison in June for racketeering and sex trafficking. Leinenweber sentenced the singer to 20 years in prison in the Illinois case.

Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonojean wrote in an email that she loved trying cases in front of Leinenweber.

“He allowed attorneys to do their jobs and never put his thumb on the scales of justice,” she wrote. “He was an honorable judge and an honorable man. The judiciary needs more judges like him. He will be missed by attorneys from all sides of the aisle.”

Leinenweber also oversaw a trial last year that ended with four people convicted in a bribery conspiracy that provided an inside look at pay-to-play politics in Illinois. Prosecutors accused two former executives with utility ComEd, a former utility consultant and a longtime government insider of arranging contracts, jobs and money of then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s associates to ensure bills boosting ComEd profits became law. Madigan has been indicted in the case. His trial is set to begin next year.

Robert Gaines served as a juror in the ComEd trial. He told the Sun-Times that Leinenweber had “complete control of the courtroom.”

“He knew how to put his foot down, and then he knew how to let it up,” Gaines said. “He was so cool and level-headed. He was the coolest judge I’ve ever seen, on TV or off TV.”

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Federal judge who presided over R. Kelly trial dead at 87 after battling lung cancer