Artist News Legal Top Stories

R Kelly trial begins: “This is a case about a predator”

By | Published on Thursday 19 August 2021

R Kelly

The first of R Kelly’s trials in which he faces charges of sexual abuse began in a New York court yesterday. The prosecution told the jury that this was a case “not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot” but “about a predator”. However, defence lawyers argued that Kelly’s accusers were fans who “knew exactly what they were getting into”.

Kelly faces a stack of charges in multiple US states over allegations of sexual abuse, including against minors, and other alleged crimes, all of which he denies. He was charged in July 2019 following various criminal investigations which were in turn prompted by the ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary series that aired in January that year.

There had been rumours and allegations against Kelly for years which were widely known within the music industry. However, at a previous trial in relation to allegations of sexual abuse against a minor in 2008 he was acquitted. But, in the wake of ‘Surviving R Kelly’, many more alleged victims came forward.

Presenting opening arguments for the prosecution yesterday, Maria Cruz Melendez described how Kelly had built an entire enterprise in order to exploit girls and young women. His success in the music industry, Melendez claimed, had given Kelly “access to girls, boys and young women” and he “quickly learned he could take advantage of this access”.

Supported by a network of managers, bodyguards and other employees, Kelly would lure girls and young women who were fans of his music into his inner circle by offering backstage passes, and inviting them to his home and studio. Some of his victims were attracted by his celebrity status, while others had their own ambitions in the music industry and saw the star as a mentor.

However, Melendez added, Kelly’s aim wasn’t to support these women, but to “exert power” over them, so that he could dominate and control them “physically, sexually and psychologically”.

Once within the inner circle, Kelly’s victims would be routinely sexually abused, while their lives would become bound by a set of rules, which often included requiring his permission to use the bathroom, eat or make phone calls. They could also also be instructed what to wear, be banned from looking at other men, and be obliged to call Kelly “daddy”.

Breaking the rules would result in “cruel and demeaning punishments”, Melendez continued, including physical punishment. Victims were kept in line, meanwhile, through blackmail, with the musician threatening to leak embarrassing photos, videos and other information. When that didn’t work, Kelly’s lawyers would organise “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in “hush payments”.

Opening the case for the defence, Nicole Blank Becker accused prosecutors of “exaggerating” the claims against her client, while adding that the charges he faces are “overreaching”.

Becker argued that Kelly had “consenting relationships” with all of his accusers, some of which had been “long-term” and “beautiful”. These women were fans of her client’s music and “knew exactly what they were getting into” when they pursued a sexual relationship with him.

Many of these women also took advantage of Kelly’s fame and wealth while in relationships with the star, Becker added, taking money from her client to pay family bills and go on “elaborate shopping sprees”.

Presumably anticipating some lurid and disturbing testimonies in the weeks ahead, Becker urged the jury to look beyond the “window dressing” and focus on the specific charges her client faces, and whether there is any credible evidence for each of those charges. “Don’t assume everybody’s telling the truth”, she added.

Following the opening statements, the court heard from one of Kelly’s accusers who previously appeared in the ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary.

According to the Associated Press, Jerhonda Pace explained how she was just sixteen when she met the star. A big fan of Kelly’s music, she was invited to his Chicago home in 2009. Although she had initially told Kelly she was nineteen, she confirmed her actual age before her first sexual encounter with the musician. The age of consent in Chicago is seventeen.

Pace told the court that, once Kelly knew her actual age, “he asked me to continue to tell everyone I was nineteen and act like I was 21”.

She continued to see Kelly for another six months, however as time went by he became more controlling, increasingly enforcing the aforementioned rules.

She told the court about one particular violent incident when Kelly decided one of those rules had been broken. “He slapped me and choked me until I passed out”, she said, adding that afterwards he spat in her face and then forced her to have oral sex.

The trial continues.