Jury selection for the federal New York trial of R. Kelly, the disgraced R&B superstar who faces a battery of sex abuse charges in several US states, is set to start Monday after more than a year of pandemic delay.
Kelly, 54, faces charges in a US court in Brooklyn including racketeering, sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping, bribery and forced labor. They span from 1994 to 2018.
The musician, currently incarcerated at a Brooklyn federal prison, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Following jury selection, testimony is due to begin August 18.
For decades the artist born Robert Sylvester Kelly has faced accusations including child pornography, sex with minors, operating a sex cult and sexual battery.
But 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 house that Kelly built began to crumble in January 2019, however, upon the release of the explosive docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," which renewed focus on the R&B luminary's checkered history in a post-#MeToo era.
In February 2019 Chicago state prosecutors charged him with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against four females, the youngest 14 years old at the time of the alleged crimes, which spanned between 1998 and 2010.
Several months later federal prosecutors in Illinois slapped him with four counts of child pornography, and five for enticing a minor into criminal sexual activity.
Prosecutors say Kelly filmed himself having sex with minors and that he paid potential witnesses in his 2008 trial -- in which he was acquitted of child pornography charges -- for their silence.
In New York, which will be the first state to see Kelly stand trial in connection with the recent raft of indictments, the musician is accused of abusing six women, whose identities are anonymous.
Jane Doe #1 is widely believed to be the 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.
- 'The time has come' -
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 both Chicago and New York denied Kelly bail, citing a flight risk, danger to the community and the prospect of witness tampering.
Kelly has repeatedly denied all charges against him, including in an emotional interview with CBS news prior to the federal indictments.
"Whether they're old rumors, new rumors, future rumors, not true," Kelly said.
Along with his two federal cases and the Chicago state prosecution, Kelly faces state charges in Minnesota.
"I've never seen anyone face four prosecutions in four different jurisdictions at one time, the way Kelly is," said lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents three of the alleged victims cited in the New York case.
"The allegations are very powerful, very disturbing," she told AFP. "To put it mildly, this is going to be a real challenge for the defense."
Kenyette Barnes, co-founder of the #MuteRKelly movement, is optimistic that Kelly will be convicted, giving alleged victims a chance to begin "healing."
Compared to his 2008 acquittal, Barnes said today "there is this concerted effort to peel back the layers, to really unnest the nesting doll that is Robert Kelly," she told AFP. "The time has come for R. Kelly survivors."
"He has harmed too many young women and girls throughout his life, and has skirted accountability. And it's time that that reign ends."