R&B singer R. Kelly goes on trial for alleged sex abuse
By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The R&B superstar R. Kelly goes on trial on Wednesday in Brooklyn on charges he was the ringleader of a two-decade scheme where he recruited women and underage girls for sex, including demanding they demonstrate "absolute commitment" and call him "Daddy".
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to deliver opening statements to a jury of seven men and five women, who will decide the 54-year-old Kelly'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 expected to include lurid details about Kelly's alleged abuses, including testimony from some female accusers and at least one male accuser.
Prosecutors will argue that 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 some of their activities.
Kelly was accused of requiring victims to obey strict rules, including that they eat or go to the bathroom only with his permission, wear baggy clothing outside his presence, and not look at other men.
The trial is the culmination of years of suspicions and accusations against Kelly, many discussed in the 2019 Lifetime documentary "Surviving R. Kelly."
Kelly's legal team has in court papers characterized their client's accusers as "disgruntled groupies" who had pined to be with him, only to change their stories later.
The trial also comes nearly four years after the start of the #MeToo era, when more women began speaking out about abuse from famous and powerful men.
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.
The defendant, whose full name is Robert Sylvester 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 Kelly's 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. Kelly has sought to dismiss charges related to herpes exposure.
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, prosecutors said. Aaliyah, identified as Jane Doe #1 in the indictment, died in a 2001 plane crash.
The indictment includes accusations of racketeering – more common in organized 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.
Rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry is among other well-known people convicted under that law. The actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin was acquitted of the charge.
Kelly was acquitted of child pornography charges at a 2008 trial in Illinois.
Kelly 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."
(This story refiles to fix typo in headline)
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Sonya Hepinstall)
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