R&B star R. Kelly is a predator who lured girls, boys and young women with his fame and dominated them physically, sexually and psychologically, a prosecutor said Wednesday, while a defense lawyer warned jurors they’ll have to sift through lies from accusers with agendas to find the truth.
The differing perspectives came as the long-anticipated trial began unfolding in a Brooklyn courtroom where several accusers were expected to testify in the next month about the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer whose career has been derailed by charges that have left him jailed as he goes broke.
“This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez told the Brooklyn jury as she explained the evidence to be revealed at his federal trial. “This case concerns a predator.”
She claimed that he gave backstage passes to encourage children and women to come along to his shows, sometimes at his house or studio. He then “dominated, controlled, and controlled” them sexually, physically, and psychologically.
Kelly was accused of recording sex acts with minors because he managed a racketeering organization of loyal and dedicated individuals, eager to fulfill “everyone” of his wishes and demands.
She said that her success and popularity had given him access, which allowed him to access girls, boys, and young women.
Kelly’s lawyer, Nicole Blank Becker, however, painted her client as a victim to women who enjoyed the “notoriety” of telling their friends they were with a star.
They were not recruited by him. They were just fans. They came to Mr. Kelly,” she stated, exhorting jurors to carefully examine the testimony. They knew what they were getting themselves into. Kelly was open about having multiple girlfriends. Kelly was very transparent.”
The lawyer stated that it would be impossible to believe that he orchestrated a complex criminal enterprise like a mob boss.
Becker warned jurors that they will have to sort through “a messof lies” from women who have an agenda.
She said, “Don’t assume everyone’s telling you the truth.”
In court papers, defense lawyers maintained that Kelly’s victims were groupies who showed up at Kelly’s shows and made it clear they “were dying” to be with him. Kelly was accused of abuse by the women years later, when public sentiment began to shift against him.
Kelly, 54, is probably best-known for his 1996 smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly”, which became an inspiring anthem at school graduations and weddings.
These openings were made more than a decade ago, after Kelly was acquitted of a Chicago child pornography case. This reprieve allowed Kelly to continue his music career until the #MeToo Era, which encouraged alleged victims to come forward, ended.
These women’s stories were featured in the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” It explored how Kelly’s supporters protected him and silenced his victims over decades. This foreshadowed the federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed Kelly behind bars in 2019.
Brooklyn’s prosecutor have assembled a number of female accusers, referred to mostly in court as Jane Does — and cooperating ex-associates who have never spoken publicly about their experiences with Kelly.
They’re expected to offer testimony about how Kelly’s managers, bodyguards and other employees helped him recruit women and girls — and sometimes boys — for sexual exploitation. They claim that the group picked victims from concerts and other venues, and then arranged for them travel to Kelly’s New York City area, where they would be subject to the Mann Act, a 1910 law making it illegal to transport any girl or woman across state lines “for any sexual purpose.”
Prosecutors allege that Kelly’s entourage established rules for the girls and women when they arrived at their accommodations. These included how to dress, not speak with each other and what Kelly would allow them to eat or use the bathroom. They were also required to call Kelly “Daddy.”
An anonymous jury made up of seven men and five women was sworn in to hear the case. After several delays caused by the pandemic, the trial proceeds under coronavirus precautions, which prevent the press and public from overflowing courtrooms with video feeds.
The New York case is just one of many legal problems facing Robert Sylvester Kelly, a singer born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He has also pleaded not guilty in Minnesota and Illinois to sex-related offenses.