R. Kelly finally stands trial in New York City on racketeering and sex trafficking charges.
Day 1 of the federal trial against Kelly began on Wednesday (Aug. 18) with both the prosecution and the defense delivering heavy opening statements. The 54-year old insists he is not guilty with the support of his legal team while federal attorneys detail the disturbing accusations through evidence and testimony from the singer’s alleged victims.
Allegations of sexual abuse against girls, women, and now boys, plague the disgraced R&B singer’s musical accomplishments. Stories of Kelly abusing minors and young adults date back to the early 1990s. In 2008, the Grammy Award-winning singer faced charges for child pornography where he was acquitted. After the controversial trial, R. Kelly continued his music career, practically unscathed. Years after movements such as #MuteRKelly and #MeToo, which sought out to expose and reprimand accused abusers in powerful positions, the backlash resumed. In 2019, the award-winning docuseries Surviving R. Kelly aired on Lifetime and opened the door for the current criminal charges the artist faces.
Here’s what we know so far following the first day of the historic trial.
R. Kelly Is Adamant He Is Not Guilty
Lawyers for the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer used their opening statement to reiterate the singer’s not-guilty stance by portraying the victims as “groupies.” In fact, according to Washington Post, his attorney Nicole Blank Becker claimed the girls and women who shared their stories desired the “notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar.” She also labeled the victim’s accounts as “a mess of lies.”
“He didn’t recruit them. They were fans. They came to Mr. Kelly,” she said. “They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr. Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent.”
Her argument continued, “Don’t assume everybody’s telling the truth.”
The Chicago Tribune reported Becker’s opening statement lasted more than two hours, with Judge Ann M. Donnelly recessing for a lunch break halfway through. Becker posed explanations for some of the accusations against her client as normal behavior including the stories of women being forced to urinate in cups, wear baggy clothes, and refer to Kelly as “Daddy.” She also corrected herself and labeled the accusers as women and not girls, despite some being minors during the alleged abuse.
“Pee in a cup? Yeah, you might hear that,” she said. “It’s not illegal, ladies and gentlemen.” Becker detailed Kelly’s version of events, claiming the victims had no other option as they were often on road trips in vans without access to a bathroom.
She added,“‘Daddy’ has now become equivalent to the worst word you could ever think of. ‘Daddy.’ Nobody was complaining about having sexual relationships with Mr. Kelly, but now you’ll hear a word from that stand [that] is a common word in sexual relationships and even not sexual relationships.” Becker continued, “It’s a common, nice way of referring to someone, and that word is going to get slung in the mud.”
The Prosecution Is Not Holding Back
“This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said to the jury. “This case is about a predator.”
The federal attorneys presented their argument that Kelly notoriously offered girls and women opportunities to access the backstage area during concerts and shows across the country and often invited them to join him at this home or studio. From there, he allegedly “dominated and controlled them physically, sexually, and psychologically.” According to the prosecution, he not only committed these violent acts but also recorded his sexual encounters involving minors.
Melendez said Kelly’s superstar status “brought him access—access to girls, boys, and young women.” She said the Chicago native “quickly learned he could take advantage of this access,” reported The Guardian. She continued to confront the accusations and exclaimed the singer “used every trick in the predator handbook,” against his victims. In her opening statement, she argued that the prosecutors would reveal how Kelly paid “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in “hush payments” and expose “cruel and demeaning punishments” for those who broke Kelly’s rules.
Jerhonda Johnson Pace Retells Her Story
In August 2017, Jerhonda Johnson Pace broke her story to Buzzfeed News sharing details of her relationship with Kelly as a predatory, violent affair. She revealed to the outlet she met the “Your Body’s Callin'” singer at the age of 15 and shortly thereafter the two became sexually involved. She initially met Kelly while skipping school daily to support him in his 2008 child pornography trial in Chicago.
In the article, Pace described herself as a once R. Kelly “superfan” who even went on record with MTV News in 2008 lying about her age—she told the outlet she was 18—and defending the singer against the accusations. “I never had any doubt they would find him not guilty,” said Pace at the time.
After the trial in May 2009, an affiliate of Kelly reached out to Pace on Myspace and invited her to a party. At the event, the singer allegedly called the teenager to the bar and said he noticed her at his trial. Initially, she did not disclose her age.
She detailed how the following month, he sent a Black SUV to pick her up and model for him nude. Pace and Kelly engaged in oral sex during this encounter, and she claimed he made her write and sign letters falsely stating that she had stolen from him and that her parents had set her up to blackmail him. On their next meeting, she says the singer gave her an alcoholic drink he called Sex in the Kitchen and the two had sexual intercourse, her first time, which he allegedly enjoyed. She alleged that after she revealed that was 16, the relationship continued and eventually turned mentally and physically abusive.
Pace was the first witness called by the prosecution and repeated her story, this time in front of a jury.
“He slapped me and choked me until I passed out,” she testified. After the violent attack, she claimed he forced her to engage in oral sex and spat on her face. She kept a blue T-shirt from the incident, which provided DNA evidence.
The Family Of Joycelyn Savage Show Support
Joycelyn Savage is an alleged victim of Kelly’s whose family claims is still under Kelly’s control. The Savage family, who appeared in Surviving R. Kelly, attended the trial in the room set aside for spectators. Since Savage’s story became public, the family has insisted Kelly is a predator who brainwashed and abused her. They also denied claims made by Savage that her parents lured her into the relationship with the singer. In the docuseries, people from Kelly’s camp portrayed Savage as the leader of his group of women.
Her mother, Jonjelyn Savage, shared with the Tribune how Pace “made a good witness.”
Official Proceedings And What Happens Next
According to NPR, the trial is expected to last about a month with an anonymous jury of seven men and five women. The New York charges include six alleged victims, including Pace and the late R&B singer Aaliyah, whom Kelly allegedly married in 1994 when she was 15 years old by faking legal documents. The prosecution hopes to introduce uncharged claims against Kelly to the jurors, including 20 Jane Does and one teenaged John Doe. After his trial ends in New York, Kelly will stand trial in Chicago.