R&B singer R Kelly back in court for opening of sex-abuse trial

ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia reports on the start of the trial - and the events that led up to it

R Kelly's sex abuse case is "about a predator" who used his fame to entice children and women, a prosecutor said as the R&B singer returned to court for the opening of his trial.

The musician is accused of sexually abusing multiple women and girls for years.

His trial, which has been delayed due to the pandemic, will hear their testimony about how Kelly’s managers, bodyguards and other employees allegedly helped him recruit women, girls and boys for sexual exploitation.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn have lined up multiple female accusers - as well as cooperating former associates - who have never spoken publicly about their experiences with Kelly.

In 2019, R Kelly arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court building for an arraignment on sex-related felonies in Chicago. Credit: AP

“This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot," prosecutor Maria Cruz Melendez told the jury, “This case is about a predator."

She said he invited children and women to join him after his shows. Once he was alone with them, he “dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically,” Melendez said.

He would also often record the sex acts, the prosecutor said.

Kelly's alleged victims were loyal and devoted to him, eager to “fulfill each and everyone one of the defendant’s wishes and demands," she said.

“What his success and popularity brought him was access, access to girls, boys and young women,” she said.

R Kelly's attorney Nicole Becker is surrounded by reporters as she arrives at Brooklyn Federal court Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

But Kelly's lawyer, Nicole Blank Becker, suggested the accusers could be lying, saying some of them enjoyed the “notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar".

She told jurors: “He didn’t recruit them. They were fans. They came to Mr. Kelly.

“They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr. Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent.”

It would be a stretch to believe he orchestrated an elaborate criminal enterprise, like a mob boss, the lawyer said.

Ms Becker warned jurors they'll have to sort through “a mess of lies" from women with an agenda and told them: “Don’t assume everybody’s telling the truth."

The singer has been trailed for decades by complaints about his sexual behaviour, including a 2002 child pornography case in Chicago, for which he was acquitted in 2008.

Family members of Jocelyn Savage, left, speak to reporters outside Brooklyn Federal court Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Jonjelyn Savage, mother of R Kelly's alleged victim Joycelyn Savage, arrived in court and told reporters outside: "It's important to be here on the first day, because we've been on this journey for so long, over five years.

"And so it's important to be here on the first day just to hear the opening statements to provide some relief for us, provide some type of closure."

Gloria Allred, a lawyer who represents multiple accusers, said: "All I can say is that I'm very confident that the court will afford a fair trial both to Mr. Kelly and also to the persons who allege that they are victims."

In recent years, scrutiny intensified amid the #MeToo movement, emboldening multiple alleged victims to come forward with accusations against the Grammy award-winning singer.

The women’s stories received wide exposure through the documentary Surviving R Kelly, which explored how an entourage of supporters silenced his victims for decades, foreshadowing a federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed in Kelly in jail in 2019.

The accusers claim the group selected victims at concerts and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly, 54, in violation of the Mann Act, a law that prohibits the transportation of any woman or girl across state lines "for any immoral purpose".

Upon arrival at their lodgings, the women and girls had to follow strict rules, including needing permission to eat or go to the toilet and having to call Kelly 'Daddy', prosecutors allege.

Countering the claims, defence lawyers have said the singer's alleged victims were 'groupies' who turned up at his shows and made it known they “were dying to be with him”.

Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is perhaps best known for his smash hit I Believe I Can Fly, a 1996 song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations and weddings.

An anonymous jury made up of seven men and five women have been sworn in for the trial, which will unfold under coronavirus precautions restricting the press and the public to overflow courtrooms with video feeds.

The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer, who has also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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