R. Kelly, the disgraced R&B superstar who faces a battery of sex abuse charges in several US states, appeared in court Monday as jury selection began in his federal New York trial.
Dressed in a navy blue suit, the 54-year-old appeared stoic as the questioning of jurors began in the Brooklyn court, where he faces charges of racketeering, sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping, bribery and forced labour, spanning from 1994 to 2018.
Kelly’s lawyer Deveraux Cannick was reticent when asked by AFP how he was feeling, smiling and saying: “Just another Monday.”
The musician born Robert Sylvester Kelly, currently incarcerated at a Brooklyn federal prison, has denied all charges.
All prospective jurors will remain anonymous and be partly sequestered throughout the process. Those selected for the trial will be escorted to and from court by US marshals, which is not abnormal in such high-profile trials.
Following jury selection, testimony is due to begin August 18.
New York is the first state to see Kelly stand trial in connection with a recent raft of state and federal indictments in four different jurisdictions.
He is accused of abusing six women, who have remained anonymous.
“Jane Doe #1” is widely believed to be the RnB singer Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash at age 22 in 2001.
The indictment alleges that Kelly paid an Illinois government employee in 1994 to obtain a fake ID to marry an underage girl. Kelly notoriously married Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27, a union that was later annulled.
– Sex cult –
The New York indictment details lurid claims that Kelly operated a crime ring that systematically recruited and groomed young girls to have sex with him, locking them in their rooms at hotels when he was on tour, instructing them to wear baggy clothing when not with him, “to keep their heads down” and to call the singer “daddy.”
Many of the “recruits” were under 18 years old, say prosecutors, who among other disturbing allegations say Kelly’s “enterprise” facilitated sex without disclosing a sexually transmitted infection the singer had contracted.
The indictment also says part of the ring’s job was to isolate girls and women, and make them “dependent on Kelly for their financial well-being.”
Federal judges in New York and Chicago, where Kelly also faces charges, have denied him bail, citing a flight risk, danger to the community and the prospect of witness tampering.
Kelly has faced accusations involving child pornography, sex with minors, operating a sex cult and sexual battery for decades.
Despite the slew of unsettling claims and several out-of-court settlements, the singer known for hits like “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Bump ‘N Grind” and “Ignition (Remix)” maintained a staunch fan base, continuing to tour worldwide.
The accusations only gained ground in the post-#MeToo era in 2019, when a new docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” renewed focus on the claims.
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