R Kelly Racketeering Trial Begins: 4 Things You Need to Know

R&B singer was arrested in 2019 on federal charges tied to child pornography

R. Kelly will finally go before a judge Wednesday after being arrested in 2019 for charges tied to child pornography, a case that has culminated after years of accusations that the R&B singer used his fame and influence to sexually abuse women and girls.

Kelly begins his criminal trial Wednesday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, starting after a long delay in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic but also because of scheduling issues for other charges he faces.

His case is one of the most high profile of the #MeToo era, spawning a damning documentary series called “Surviving R. Kelly” and being the subject of more reports that have accused him of overseeing an enterprise that for decades recruited women and girls to have sex with him. He’s also come under scrutiny for his annulled, 1994 marriage to the late singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old, details of which will be a major focus of the trial that begins Wednesday.

But Kelly – whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly – is also returning to court after previously being acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, a time in which Kelly rose to stardom and continued to perform. Much has changed since then with the country’s attitude toward accusations of sexual assault. But Kelly has plead not guilty to all of his charges, has fiercely denied any misconduct and will have a defense team seeking to cast doubt on the motivations of the women expected to testify.

What Charges Does R. Kelly Face?

Kelly on Wednesday will face 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.

He faces decades in prison if he were to be convicted on the most serious charges.

But Kelly is also charged in a separate federal trial in Chicago and on additional state sex crime charges in Illinois and Minnesota, trials which he has also been awaiting in various detention centers in Chicago and New York.

What Evidence Will Jurors Hear?

Prosecutors in the Kelly case will share evidence and witness testimony that accuses Kelly of a wide range of accusations of forced labor, kidnapping, producing child pornography and even failing to disclose the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases to his sexual partners.

But the 12-person jury will need to decide more broadly the racketeering charge and whether an informal criminal enterprise existed around Kelly, enabling the crimes that Kelly is accused of.

The broad scope will allow prosecutors to bring up the details of his marriage to singer Aaliyah, who in the ’90s before her death in a plane crash in 2001 had Kelly executive produce 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.

While prosecutors will include accusations of sexual abuse of up to 14 different individuals, the defense will try to cast doubt on the motivations of the accusers and that the racketeering charge is off base.

“At this point, the public has only heard one side of the story in this case and that is about to change in the coming weeks,” Thomas A. Farinella, a lawyer for Kelly, said in a statement via the The New York Times on Tuesday, saying that the racketeering charge is “based on a series of independent relationships and events that the government is trying to patch together like different types of fabrics and trying to pass it off as silk.”

Who Will Testify in the Case?

Six unnamed women are at the center of the case, including two who appeared in “Surviving R. Kelly” and two who have never before come public about their accusations. According to The New York Times, three of the accusers were allegedly underage at the time of the incidents. Prosecutors will give details about how they say Kelly controlled and manipulated aspects of their lives and endured other physical and psychological abuse.

Kelly’s lawyers have previously argued in court filings that these individuals are “disgruntled groupies” and that the sex they had was consensual.

Others present at the trial are a former girlfriend Jocelyn Savage, who has helped expose Kelly’s interactions with women. She’s listed as a witness but is not expected to be among the six women to testify. And also present and expected to take the stand is a former personal assistant to Kelly, Demetrius Smith, who previously admitted to securing the fake documents that led to Kelly’s marriage to Aaliyah.

The case is significant for the Black women who are at the center of the case rather than the models or actresses who have come forward to accuse people like Harvey Weinstein at the height of the #MeToo movement. Some say it is their voices that have been missing from the conversation.

What Happened at R. Kelly’s 2008 Trial?

The failure of one woman to testify in Kelly’s 2008 trial in part led to his acquittal in 2008, a trial that began six years after charges were filed against him. Prosecutors showed jurors a tape of Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl, but the woman refused to testify. He was acquitted on all 14 counts of child pornography.

The trial also excluded other accusations of sexual assault about Kelly using his influence to lure them into his radius, and the racketeering charge will give prosecutors the chance to cast a much wider net.


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