US prosecutor tells court R&B singer R Kelly a ‘predator’

Three-time Grammy winner’s lawyers characterise accusers as ‘disgruntled groupies’

R&B singer R Kelly also faces sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota, where he also pleaded not guilty. File photograph: AP

R&B singer R Kelly also faces sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota, where he also pleaded not guilty. File photograph: AP

 

R Kelly went on trial on Wednesday in Brooklyn on charges he was the ringleader of a 20-year scheme where he recruited women and underage girls for sex, with a prosecutor calling the R&B superstar a “predator.”

Opening statements are being delivered to a jury comprising seven men and five women, who will decide the 54-year-old’s fate.

Kelly, a three-time Grammy winner – whose songs include I Believe I Can Fly and Bump N’ Grind – has pleaded not guilty and strongly denied wrongdoing.

The trial, delayed several times by the pandemic and expected to last about one month, is likely to include lurid details about Kelly’s alleged abuses, including testimony from some female accusers and at least one male accuser.

“This case is about a predator,” said assistant US attorney Maria Melendez in her opening statement. “A man who used lies, manipulation, threats and physical abuse to dominate his victims and to avoid accountability for years.”

Prosecutors will argue that Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, used an entourage of managers, bodyguards and others to recruit women and girls, sometimes at concerts, for him to have sex with and abuse, and recorded their activities.

Kelly is accused of requiring victims to demonstrate “absolute commitment” and obey strict rules, including that they eat or go to the bathroom only with his permission, not look at other men, and call him “daddy”.

The trial is the culmination of years of suspicions and accusations against Kelly, many discussed in the 2019 Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly.

His legal team has in court papers characterised their client’s accusers as “disgruntled groupies” who had pined to be with him, only to change their stories later.

Kelly could face decades in prison if convicted.

Even if he is acquitted, he still faces sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota, where he also pleaded not guilty.

Nine-count indictment

Kelly has been jailed for more than two years. He was moved in June to Brooklyn from Chicago for the trial.

The nine-count indictment describes his alleged mistreatment of five Jane Doe victims, three of whom were underage at the time. One accuser said Kelly engaged in unprotected sex with her without revealing he had herpes.

Prosecutors will also try to show Kelly bribed an Illinois official in 1994 to obtain fake identification for the singer Aaliyah, then 15, so that they could marry.

Kelly, according to prosecutors, believed he had impregnated Aaliyah, and hoped a marriage would keep her from having to testify against him.

A marriage license showed Aaliyah’s age as 18, said prosecutors. Aaliyah, identified as Jane Doe number one in the indictment, died in a 2001 plane crash.

The indictment includes accusations of racketeering – more common in organised crime cases – as well as bribery and extortion.

Eight counts allege violations of the Mann Act, a federal law now making it a crime to transport people across state lines for prostitution.

Kelly was acquitted of child pornography charges at a 2008 trial in Illinois.

He last released a studio album in 2016. His career stalled following the Lifetime documentary and the latest charges and Kelly’s lawyers said this month his “funds have been depleted.” – Reuters