First Witness Jerhonda Johnson Pace Offers Searing Testimony on Day One of Sexual Assault Trial
Thus began, according to Pace, six months of repeated sexual contact with the much older R&B star and increasing instances of physical abuse and control.
Prosecutors allege it was part of a decades-long operation that harnessed Kelly’s enormous fame to target young victims, groom them, abuse them, and manipulate or blackmail them into keeping them under their control. He faces a racketeering charge most commonly used against mob bosses, drug cartels, and the like.
“He began to collect girls and women as if they were things, accumulating them as objects,” said Assistant US Attorney María Cruz Meléndez in her opening remarks.
Melendez told a jury of seven men and five women in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday (Thursday AEST) that Kelly, 54, used “lies, manipulation, threats and physical abuse” to dominate his victims and, to Often, he filmed their sexual encounters.
The indictment describes Kelly’s alleged dealings with six women and girls, including the late singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when she married Kelly.
Kelly was a “predator” who demanded absolute loyalty from the many underage women and girls he recruited for sex for two decades, he said. “This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party very much.”
But Kelly’s attorney, Nicole Blank Becker, said the government’s case had “loopholes” and that Kelly’s accusers, including several whose names are not public, were former fans who turned on him because they weren’t happy that their relationships won’t work.
“They knew exactly what they were getting into,” Becker said. “The relationships Mr. Kelly had with the various Jane Does were relationships of consent.”
Kelly, a three-time Grammy winner whose songs include I believe I can fly Y Bump N ‘Grind, pleaded not guilty to a nine-count indictment that includes bribery and extortion charges. He has vigorously denied the wrongdoing.
Prosecutors will argue that Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, used an entourage of managers, bodyguards and others to recruit victims, sometimes at concerts.
Melendez said Kelly would require victims to get his permission before doing virtually anything, including going to the bathroom, and would blackmail them by threatening to publish self-incriminating letters that he forced them to write if they fled.
Some female accusers and at least one male accuser are expected to testify for the government.
The trial was delayed multiple times by the coronavirus pandemic and is expected to last about a month.
It is the culmination of years of suspicions and accusations against Kelly, many discussed in the 2019 documentary. Surviving R. Kellyand almost four years after the start of the #MeToo era.
Kelly has been incarcerated for more than two years and could face decades in prison if convicted.
Even if he is acquitted, he still faces sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota, where he also pleaded not guilty.
Melendez said an accuser, Sonya, was sexually abused nearly two decades ago at Kelly’s Chicago studio, where the 22-year-old hoped to interview him for a radio station where she worked.
The prosecutor said Sonya was locked in a study room for three days and lost consciousness shortly after she was released and fed.
Upon awakening, Sonya felt wetness between her legs, saw Kelly buttoning her pants and realized she had been sexually assaulted, Melendez said.
The six alleged victims in the indictment, four of whom were minors, are identified as Jane Does No. 1 through No. 6.
Prosecutors will attempt to show that Kelly bribed an Illinois official in 1994 to obtain a false ID for Aaliyah, who is Jane Doe No. 1 and whose marriage license showed she was 18 years old, so they could get married.
According to prosecutors, Kelly believed she had gotten Aaliyah pregnant and hoped a marriage would prevent her from testifying against him. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001.
Eight counts in the indictment allege violations of the Federal Mann Law, which makes it a crime to transport people across state lines for prostitution.
Rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry is among other well-known individuals convicted under that law. Actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin was acquitted of the charge.
Kelly was acquitted of child pornography charges in a 2008 trial in Illinois.
The last time he released a studio album was in 2016. Kelly’s career stalled after the documentary and the latest charges.
Chicago Tribune, Reuters