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He knew this feeling. Knew it the way he knew the cracked plaster, the fluorescent lights, the drab halls of the courthouse at 26th and Cal—the place where, as a boy, he had played checkers with deputies and watched his father, a criminal defense legend, work a judge, a jury, a witness. It was what had gotten him here, before his own packed courtroom, rising to deliver the closing argument in one of the biggest celebrity heater cases in years: the child pornography trial of the superstar singer R. Kelly. The feeling was righteous indignation, and, as prosecutors were about to find out that day, June 12, 2008, no one did it better than Sam Adam Jr.
The prosecution went first. Shauna Boliker, an assistant Cook County state’s attorney, told the jury that 14 witnesses—14!—had identified Kelly as the man on a videotape having sex with a 13-year-old girl. “This is not a whodunit,” she said with her own indignation. “It is a he-did-it.”
Up stepped Adam. Stocky, with a round face that can register a dozen different shades of mock astonishment, he started with a slow smolder, built to a crackling umbrage, then burst into a booming, raving, fulminating bellow. Kelly had a mole on his back, Adam cried. But when the sex video was shown in court, the mole came and went—came and went! Sometimes it was there; sometimes it wasn’t! “How does that mole come and go?” he roared. Witnesses? Please! The prosecution’s star testifier “came in here and absolutely lied to you!” Sweat streamed. His voice dropped to a whisper, rose to a howl. The whole thing was unbelievable, he said. “[Kelly’s accuser] is a 13-year-old girl having raunchy, dirty, nasty sex . . . with a superstar—I mean, a superstar—who’s won Grammy Awards, and she tells no one? Never?” Adam exploded, his voice strained to the breaking point. “You couldn’t keep a 13-year-old girl’s mouth quiet about having Hannah Montana tickets!” he said, pounding his fist on a high beam in front of the jury box.
By the time it was over, working without notes, he had referenced The Office, the comedian Dave Chappelle, Hannah Montana, Santa, God, Satan, McDonald’s restaurants, and Ralph Kramden. He rode the Feeling for the better part of an hour before sitting back down, spent, leaving the courtroom abuzz.
The verdict came after five hours of deliberation: not guilty on all counts. In the days that followed, Adam was lionized and lampooned—called a rising star and a clown. Just 35 at the time, he was to some the heir apparent to his mentor, the renowned criminal defense attorney Ed Genson (the lead attorney on the Kelly case and the person Adam credits for getting the win). To others, he was a cringe-inducing showboat.
Adam dismissed both the praise and the pillorying. The case, he told me in March, was about the facts—and about Genson picking a good jury. Still, the triumph affirmed his personal courtroom credo. “A jury trial is a show, nothing but a show,” Adam said with an unapologetic smile. “He who puts on the best show, he who entertains the most, he who can bring [his] point in the most effective way, wins. Hands down.”
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Photo Illustration: Taylor Castle