R. Kelly, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering and sex trafficking earlier this year, will stand trial again starting this week, opening the next chapter in prosecutors’ efforts to hold him criminally accountable for allegations of sexual abuse dating back more than three decades.
The trial is taking place in Chicago, the city Mr Kelly has long called home, and where he faced his first criminal trial in 2008.
This time, federal prosecutors are seeking to hold Mr. Kelly and his associates accountable for trying to thwart the previous trial, in which a jury acquitted Mr. Kelly of producing child sex abuse footage. They accuse Mr Kelly and a former employee also on trial, Derrel McDavid, of arranging silent payouts and seeking to conceal evidence that would have aided prosecutors when investigating the singer in the early 2000s.
Mr Kelly, 55, will face charges of coercing five minors into sex acts and several charges relating to the production of child sexual abuse images. He and Mr McDavid are also accused of receiving child sex abuse footage, in what prosecutors described as a scheme to recover missing tapes of Mr Kelly having sex with children. minors.
A third man – another former employee of Mr Kelly, Milton Brown – faces a related charge. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
The trial will be an emotional moment for many in Chicago who witnessed Mr Kelly’s rise from city kid to pop and R&B star and then downfall after being accused of lured underage girls into his orbit.
“Chicago has always struggled with that because it’s local and we tend to ride for our people,” said Mikki Kendall, a writer who grew up in the city and recalled, in the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” seeing the adult singer approaching teenage girls at a local McDonald’s. “There are people who are going to be very upset and who will try again to insist that the girls are at fault, and there will be people – and I am one of them – who are going to say 59,000 times: C is a grown man preying on very young women and children.
The first public disclosure of abuse allegations occurred during a trial in 1996, and a steady drop in claims and legal articles followed over the next two decades. The renewed effort to prosecute Mr Kelly came in 2019, after the Lifetime documentary aired about women who described being abused and controlled by him, often when they were teenagers.
A year ago, Mr Kelly stood trial in New York, where a jury found him guilty of running a decades-long scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex. He began serving his 30-year prison sentence in Brooklyn before being transferred to a federal prison in Chicago for the ongoing trial.
What happened during the 2008 trial?
The 2008 trial was the result of a 2002 grand jury indictment of Mr. Kelly on 21 counts of child pornography, which were later reduced to 14. The case took years to come to trial. a jury. During this time, the singer debuted some of the biggest hits of his career, including “Ignition” and “Step in the Name of Love.”
The trial revolved around a 27-minute tape that prosecutors say showed Mr Kelly having sex with a teenage girl and urinating on it. The case hinged on whether the jury was satisfied that the people on the tape were who prosecutors said they were. Mr. Kelly and the young woman denied they were the ones on the tape, and neither gave evidence at trial.
A jury found Mr Kelly not guilty on all charges, and after the verdict was released, jurors said the young woman’s refusal to testify was a significant obstacle to her conviction.
How is this relevant to the ongoing trial?
Part of the trial will focus on charges that Mr. Kelly and his associate, Mr. McDavid, conspired to obstruct the previous federal investigation by paying people with knowledge of Mr. Kelly’s abuse and seeking to suppress evidence.
Prosecutors accuse Mr Kelly of persuading the minor in the gang to deny to a grand jury in the early 2000s that she had a sexual relationship with Mr Kelly and that it was her in the 27-minute video . According to the federal indictment, Mr. Kelly and Mr. McDavid arranged payments and purchased gifts for the minor and her parents over a period of approximately 15 years to prevent them from speaking to law enforcement about abuse.
The silent payments were part of a wider effort, prosecutors say, to hide evidence of Mr Kelly’s sexual abuse from investigators.
In 2001, after state officials began investigating whether Mr. Kelly had abused the child at the center of the 2008 trial, Mr. Kelly and his associates realized that several videotapes of the singer sexually abusing minors had disappeared, according to the indictment in the case. After this realization, Mr. Kelly and Mr. McDavid launched a multi-year effort to have these videos returned, paying an anonymous person hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover them, according to the indictment.
At the time of the first trial in Chicago, prosecutors say, the person Mr. Kelly and Mr. McDavid hired to find the missing videos planned a press conference about the existence of footage of Mr. Kelly having sex with minors. According to the indictment, Mr. Kelly, Mr. McDavid and others paid the person $170,000 to have it quashed.
The charges of receiving child sex abuse footage relate to the effort to recover several missing videos of Mr Kelly engaging in sexual acts with the person at the center of the 2008 trial.
Who is supposed to testify?
Prosecutors have not revealed exactly who they will call to testify, but court documents suggest they now have the cooperation of the woman whose testimony in 2008 was missing evidence in their case, as well as her mother.
The indictment also suggests prosecutors have the cooperation of four other people who claim Mr Kelly forced them to have sex when they were minors, between 1996 and 2001.
Judge Harry D. Leinenweber, who will preside over the case, recently ruled that any accuser called to testify will be able to do so using pseudonyms.
A lawyer representing Mr Kelly, Jennifer Bonjean, did not respond to requests for comment on the case. Mr. Kelly did not testify at the trial in Brooklyn.
In a tweeted last weekMs Bonjean wrote that it would be difficult to find 12 jurors who would be fair “given the media war against my client”.
“The government is starting with an incredible advantage but we will fight like hell to get a jury that will follow the law,” she wrote.
How is the Chicago trial different from the Brooklyn trial?
The trials are likely to be similar in that the centerpiece of the prosecutors’ case is testimony from people who say Mr. Kelly recruited them for sex, but the legal approaches are different.
In Brooklyn, Mr Kelly was convicted of one count of racketeering on allegations that he was the ringleader of a criminal enterprise that carried out acts of bribery, kidnapping and forced labor . He was also found guilty of eight counts of violating the Mann Act, a sex trafficking law.
In the trial beginning this week, which is taking place in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the charges are equally complex. Mr Kelly faces five counts of coercing a minor into criminal sexual activity; four counts of doing so for the purpose of producing a video of the conduct; two counts of receiving child pornography; one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography; and one count of conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation.
Part of Mr. Kelly’s story that is unlikely to be discussed is his illegal marriage to singer Aaliyah when she was 15 and Mr. Kelly was 27. The marriage was at the heart of the case against Mr. Kelly in Brooklyn, where a witness testified that Mr. Kelly sexually abused Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001 when she was just 13 or 14 years old.
Mr. Kelly’s legal team asked the Chicago trial judge to exclude evidence related to the marriage, and prosecutors responded that they did not intend to call evidence on the subject.
R. Kelly facing any other criminal charges?
Yes. Mr. Kelly still faces sex crimes charges in Illinois and Minnesota. After the federal trial in Chicago, these charges will be dealt with next.