On Wednesday (Aug. 18), the defense and prosecution made their opening statements in R&B singer-songwriter R. Kelly‘s sex trafficking trial, which was held at the Eastern District of New York courthouse in Brooklyn.
More than two years after his arrest stemming from charges related to sex crimes — accusations include bribery, kidnapping and forced labor — the trial began with the prosecution, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez delivered the opening statement for the government in front of U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly and the jury, which consists of seven men and five women.
She argued that Kelly had “a team of dedicated employees and close associates” who had a “common purpose to promote his persona and fulfill his wishes and demands,” claiming the 54-year-old hitmaker “used his inner circle as a means to a criminal end.”
Melendez went on to outline the gruesome witness testimonies from five Jane Does, which will come throughout the trial. Events cited date back to the ’90s, including Kelly’s marriage to R&B singer Aaliyah, known as Jane Doe No. 1, when she was 15. Melendez says that when Kelly discovered Aaliyah was pregnant during his tour, he immediately flew back to Chicago, where Aaliyah was awaiting him in a hotel near the airport. He then allegedly bribed a government worker with $500 to make the “One in a Million” singer a counterfeit ID so she could pass as 18 for the purpose of the wedding.
The singer’s defense attorney Nicole Blank Becker delivered her opening remarks following the prosecution. Her statements made an effort to debase his racketeering charge by claiming what Kelly was doing was not part of a “continuous, ongoing enterprise.”
“The fundamental reason we’re all here today is because the government wants you to believe our client, an internationally known singer, is the leader of some large enterprise — similar to John Gotti, the leader of a large mob family,” said Becker. She later claimed the witnesses’ testimonies are too fragile to stand up in court: “So many untruths told that even the government won’t be able to entangle the mess of lies.”
The first witness, Jerhonda Johnson Pace, took the stand and gave her testimony. Pace, known as Jane Doe No. 4, claimed to be part of Kelly’s fan club on Myspace and met him when she was 14-years-old during his 2008 trial in Chicago, when he was acquitted of child pornography charges. The following year, Pace claimed she went to the singer’s house when she was 16 and he was between 41 and 43, but she lied to Kelly at the time by claiming to be 19. One of his associates, Bubba, allegedly invited Pace over for one of Kelly’s parties, where she said the “Ignition (Remix)” artist told her to wear a swimsuit that he later instructed her to take off before they proceeded to have oral sex in the “game room.” When Pace began to feel uncomfortable, she said she revealed her true age and state I.D. to Kelly, who advised her to keep claiming she was 19 years old but act as if she was 21. Pace later alleged that when she also revealed she was a virgin to the singer, he “bent me over on the back of his sofa and took my virginity” before giving her a drink that made her feel ill and telling her to lay in the “mirror room,” which was attached to the game room.
Pace alleged that later that night, one of Kelly’s runners gave her $50 in an envelope, which she believed was to help her get back home. Kelly allegedly took her phone and gave her money to buy a new one but didn’t want her talking to anyone else but him. The two stopped having a sexual relationship in January 2010.
The “I Believe I Can Fly” hitmaker has pleaded not guilty to charges that accuse him of leading an enterprise of employees — including drivers, bodyguards, assistants, managers, lawyers and more — who helped him recruit women and girls, mostly from his concerts, for sex.
If Kelly is convicted on all counts, he will face 10 years to life in prison.
UPDATE: This story was updated to add details of testimony given in R. Kelly’s trial on Wednesday (Aug. 18).