More than 25 years after allegations of sexual abuse against R. Kelly first began to surface, the singer’s New York criminal trial is set to begin its opening statements today (Aug. 18). It is one of several sets of charges against him; a Chicago trial is slated to begin after the New York hearings conclude.
In this trial, Kelly faces 22 federal counts, including human trafficking, racketeering, child pornography, kidnapping and forced labor. Kelly has denied all of the allegations against him. If convicted, he could spend up to two decades behind bars. The racketeering charge depicts Kelly’s team as a criminal organization led by him, stemming from multiple allegations that his employees lured young women to meet the singer and then essentially imprisoned them, refusing to allow them to communicate with their families and even depriving them of food and bathroom access.
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A jury was selected last Wednesday, comprising seven men and five women.
The trial, which has been delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Kelly firing his lawyers, is expected to last six to eight weeks. Kelly was originally arraigned in New York in July of 2019.
Below is a brief overview of the allegations against Kelly before opening statements begin.
Illegal Marriage to Aaliyah (1994)
In 1994, 27-year-old R. Kelly and the singer Aaliyah, a Kelly protégé who was 15 at the time, were briefly married, allegedly via a false I.D. that said she was 18, the legal marriage age in the U.S. The marriage was quickly annulled and her working relationship with him ended soon after; Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001. In 2019, Kelly was charged with bribery in New York for the purchase of Aaliyah’s fake I.D., which was allegedly obtained by Demetrius Smith, his tour manager at the time.
Emotional Distress Lawsuit (1996)
In 1996, Tiffany Hawkins filed a lawsuit against Kelly citing personal injuries and emotional distress. Hawkins alleged that he had forced her, at 15 years old, to engage in group sex with other teenage girls. Kelly settled the lawsuit for $250,000 in 1998.
Child Pornography Cases (2002-2008)
Kelly was indicted in 2002 on 21 counts of child pornography after a video anonymously sent to Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis showed the singer engaged in sexual acts with a girl who appeared to be underage. However, when the alleged victim did not testify at the trial, the prosecution was unable to prove that she was a minor and Kelly was eventually acquitted in 2008.
Meanwhile, while investigating the 2002 case, a search was conducted of Kelly’s residence in Florida, where authorities discovered 12 images of what appeared to be an underaged girl that allegedly showed Kelly engaging in sexual acts with her. Kelly was arrested in 2003 in Miami on 12 counts of child pornography possession. In March 2004, the charges were dropped after the search warrants were found to have a “lack of probable cause.”
Sex Cult Allegations (2017)
After the situation stayed quiet for almost a decade — during which Kelly toured, released successful albums and singles, and allegedly resumed his abuse against young women — an explosive BuzzFeed article reported by DeRogatis brought the allegations against the singer back to the forefront. In the story, three sets of parents accused Kelly of holding their daughters against their will in an alleged “sex cult.” The article alleged that Kelly was controlling every aspect of the women’s lives, and had confiscated their phones, therefore cutting them off from their families. All women cited in the BuzzFeed report were of age, and one later publicly denied being held against her will.
#MuteRKelly Movement (2018)
Following two BBC documentaries diving deeper into the 2017 allegations, advocacy organization Time’s Up called for a boycott of Kelly’s music and performances. The movement gained momentum across social media, with some streaming services announcing they would stop promoting his music. However, this decision met with a backlash and was eventually walked back; Kelly’s music remains available on streaming services but is seldom promoted.
‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Documentary
In January 2019, 11 years after Kelly’s acquittal, Lifetime aired “Surviving R. Kelly,” a six-episode documentary in which many of the singer’s alleged victims spoke in graphic detail about their experiences. While much of the information in the documentary had been publicly available for many years, the documentary put the allegations against Kelly into dramatic relief. With a combination of lawyers, money and influence, Kelly for years had managed to dodge, defeat, delay or simply outlast his accusers, but bolstered by the #MeToo movement, public outcry against the singer grew exponentially and legal authorities began to examine or re-examine allegations against him.
The following month, Kelly was charged in Cook County, Ill. with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, alleging that he sexually abused four women in the area from 1998 to 2010, three of whom were underage. Kelly turned himself in and pleaded not guilty. He was later released on bail. These charges have yet to be explored in court due to his federal trial.
Just a few months after being charged in Chicago, Kelly was arrested by federal authorities in July 2019 who indicted him on charges including child pornography, child sexual exploitation, kidnapping, forced labor, racketeering and obstruction of justice. The same day, they also announced a second indictment, which involves one count of racketeering and four violations of the Mann Act, which is a federal law against the transportation of “any woman for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery,” according to Cornell Law. The charges involve five women, three of whom allege to have been underage at the time of their association with Kelly.
Kelly has been behind bars since this indictment, having been denied bail despite several attempts by his attorneys. He was first held at a correctional center in Chicago but has been transferred to a detention center in Brooklyn for his trial. Most recently, the prosecution has asked the court to include further evidence involving Kelly’s alleged bribery and sexual abuse of minors, including the first allegation against Kelly by a teenage boy.
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