R. Kelly sex crimes trial begins in New York
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New York (AFP) –
R. Kelly's highly anticipated sex abuse trial got underway Wednesday in New York where the disgraced R&B superstar faces a slew of charges, including racketeering and sexual exploitation of a child.
The prosecution and the defense were due to make their opening statements at a Brooklyn federal court in the long-awaited trial that the pandemic delayed by over a year.
Kelly, 54, is also charged with kidnapping, bribery and forced labor. He denies the charges, which span from 1994 to 2018, but faces between 10 years and life in prison if convicted on all counts.
For decades the Grammy-winning artist born Robert Sylvester Kelly has faced accusations including making child pornography, sex with minors, operating a sex cult and sexual battery.
But despite the unsettling claims and several out-of-court settlements, the singer known for hits like "I Believe I Can Fly," "Bump 'N Grind" and "Ignition (Remix)" maintained a staunch fan base, continuing to tour worldwide.
His career began to crumble in January 2019 after the release of the explosive docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," which renewed focus on the R&B luminary's checkered history in a post-#MeToo era.
In February 2019 Chicago state prosecutors charged him with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against four females, the youngest 14 years old at the time of the alleged crimes, which spanned between 1998 and 2010.
Several months later federal prosecutors in Illinois slapped him with four counts of child pornography, and five for enticing a minor into criminal sexual activity.
The New York trial is the first to put Kelly on the stand in connection with the raft of indictments.
"Now finally, after almost two decades, people are finally speaking up and I'm humbly grateful for that," Jonjelyn Savage, mother of Joycelyn Savage, a former girlfriend of Kelly who says he abused her, said outside court.
- 'Recruits' -
The indictment details lurid claims that Kelly operated a crime ring that systematically recruited and groomed young girls to have sex with him, locking them in their rooms at hotels when he was on tour, instructing them to wear baggy clothing when not with him, "to keep their heads down" and to call the singer "daddy."
Many of the "recruits" were under 18 years old, say prosecutors, who among other disturbing allegations say Kelly's "enterprise" facilitated sex without disclosing a sexually transmitted infection the singer had contracted.
The indictment also says part of the ring's job was to isolate girls and women, and make them "dependent on Kelly for their financial well-being."
The prosecution's case centers on six unnamed women, including Jane Doe #1, widely believed to be the singer Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash at age 22 in 2001.
The indictment alleges that Kelly paid an Illinois government employee in 1994 to obtain a fake ID to marry an underage girl; Kelly notoriously married Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27, a union that was later annulled.
Prosecutors have said they will enter allegations by other women that are not part of the indictment to substantiate the charges.
Kelly's attorneys are expected to claim that the victims are aggrieved groupies who consented to sex before later changing their stories.
The trial is due to last a month and a jury of seven men and five women will decide Kelly's fate.
The star was acquitted on child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008.
© 2021 AFP