R Kelly: Jury selection begins for singer's sexual abuse trial

R Kelly in court in 2019. Credit: AP

Singer R Kelly has appeared in court for the first phase of his sex trafficking trial as jury selection began on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly began questioning potential jurors about whether they can keep an open mind about Kelly two years after he was charged with abusing women and girls for nearly two decades.The coronavirus pandemic and a change in Kelly’s defense team delayed the trial into the summer, two years after he was charged with abusing women and girls for nearly two decades.

Judge Ann Donnelly reminded the potential jurors that R Kelly was presumed innocent and that they should not be influenced by any bad publicity he has faced over the accusations.

The proceeding was being conducted amid pandemic precautions, restricting the press and the public to overflow courtrooms with video feeds.

R Kelly is a multi award-winning RnB artist. Credit: AP

Much of the time, Kelly and potential jurors weren’t clearly visible on the feeds and the audio was often faint.

The R&B singer has been in prison since he was arrested, mostly in a federal jail in Chicago.

He was moved last month to the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to face trial in a case that’s further diminished his superstar status.

Last week, defense attorney Deveraux Cannick told a judge that Kelly needs to be measured for new clothing because he’s gained so much weight in jail. And he asked that court transcripts be provided at no cost because Kelly has been unable to work for two years, saying: “His funds are depleted.”

The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of leading an enterprise of managers, bodyguards and other employees who helped him recruit women and girls for sex.

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Federal prosecutors say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly.

Jurors are expected to hear testimony from several of his accusers. A judge has ruled that the women will only be referred to by their first names.

Kelly has been trailed for decades by complaints and allegations about his sexual behaviour, including a 2002 child pornography case in Chicago. He was acquitted in that case in 2008.

Scrutiny intensified again amid the #MeToo movement in recent years, with multiple women going public with accusations against the singer. The pressure intensified with the release of the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” in 2019.