FILE PHOTO: R. Kelly appears for a hearing at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 26, 2019. E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Pool via REUTERS
August 9, 2021
By Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – R. Kelly went to court on Monday as jury selection began in his sex trafficking trial in Brooklyn, where a conviction could result in decades in prison for the Grammy-winning R&B singer.
Federal prosecutors charged Kelly, 54, with leading an entourage of managers, bodyguards and others to recruit women and girls for him to have sex with and abuse, and to produce pornography, including child pornography.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to a nine-count indictment that includes accusations of racketeering, bribery, extortion and demanding “absolute commitment” from victims, isolating them from friends and family and requiring they call him “Daddy.”
His head now shaved, Kelly wore a blue suit and tie and light blue shirt in appearing before U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers questioned dozens of potential jurors, behind closed doors and in open court.
One prospective juror was excused after saying he was raised Christian and would have “some difficulty” with testimony about sexual activity between people of the same gender.
While most of Kelly’s accusers are women, Donnelly has said an alleged male victim can testify that Kelly sexually abused him.
The trial begins on Aug. 18 and may last several weeks.
Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has been jailed for more than two years.
One of his lawyers said last week that Kelly’s “funds have been depleted,” and that Kelly needed new clothing for trial because he had gained weight in jail.
Sexual abuse allegations have dogged Kelly since the 1990s, when he recorded such hits as “I Believe I Can Fly,” for which he won three Grammy awards, and “Bump n’ Grind.”
Some allegations were discussed in the 2019 Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
The indictment describes Kelly’s alleged mistreatment of five victims, Jane Does #2 through #6. Some are expected to testify, and three were underage at the time of the alleged abuse.
Prosecutors also charged Kelly with bribing an Illinois official to obtain fake identification for Jane Doe #1, the singer Aaliyah, in 1994 when she was 15 and he was 27, showing her age as 18 so they could get married secretly.
Donnelly will let prosecutors try to show Kelly and Aaliyah, who died in 2001, had sexual contact.
Prosecutors have said Kelly believed Aaliyah had become pregnant and got married so she, as his wife, would not have to testify if he were criminally charged.
Donnelly has said prosecutors can present evidence that Kelly mistreated other women, including audio recordings of Kelly yelling and physically assaulting women.
Hundreds of people had completed 22-page juror questionnaires, aimed at ensuring Kelly gets a fair trial.
Kelly has also pleaded not guilty to federal charges in Chicago of engaging in sex acts with five underage victims, and sex-related charges by state prosecutors in Illinois and Minnesota.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)