R. Kelly’s trial on racketeering opened on Wednesday with a prosecutor in her opening remarks calling the R&B singer a “predator” who used his influence and star power to prey on young women and girls.
“This case is about a predator,” Maria Cruz Melendez, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in opening remarks to the jury in Brooklyn on Wednesday, according to The New York Times. “A man who, for decades, used his fame, his popularity and a network of people at his disposal to target, groom and exploit young girls, boys and women for his own sexual gratification.”
Kelly was arrested in 2019 on charges relating to child pornography, all of which have come after decades of accusations of sexual abuse. He faces one charge of racketeering based on the sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and forced labor, as well as eight different counts of violating the Mann Act, which is a law barring the transportation of someone across state lines for prostitution. And he faces decades in prison if he were to be convicted on the most serious charges.
Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has denied all accusations against him and has plead not guilty to the charges. And Kelly’s defense attorney Nicole Blank Becker in response said that the prosecutors charges were “overreaching” and that his sexual encounters were consensual.
“These women, these witnesses who take the stand — he didn’t recruit them,” Becker said in her opening statements, according to CNN. “Ladies and gentlemen, you will hear that they were fans, that they came to Mr. Kelly.”
Across opening remarks that lasted nearly an hour, Melendez spelled out to the 12 jurors accusations of Kelly sexually, physically and psychologically abusing six different women who were between 15 and 22 at the time they interacted with Kelly. Four of the women are expected to testify in court. One of the women was singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when Kelly had a brief, annulled marriage to in 1994. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001.
Kelly’s behavior first came under scrutiny tied to his marriage to Aaliyah after he had executive produced her debut album “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number,” a title he came up with. Back in 2019, Kelly was accused of bribing a government employee to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah to say she was 18 and obtain a marriage license, when at the time she was just 15 and he was 27.
Melendez in her remarks added that Kelly “had his pick of young fans” and used tricks in the “predator handbook,” according to BBC, and further alleged that Kelly would cover up his crimes through the use of bodyguards, drivers, lawyers and accountants. Prosecutors also accused him of bribing and manipulating victims with threats of releasing their sex tapes and further controlling their behavior, such as when to eat or use the bathroom.
Kelly’s trial was delayed in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic but also due to scheduling issues for other charges he faces, including in a separate federal trial in Chicago and in state cases in Illinois and Minnesota.
Kelly was previously acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008 after an alleged victim did not testify in court, but the broad scope of racketeering in this case will allow prosecutors to bring up other accusations of misconduct that seek to determine whether he was leading an informal criminal enterprise.