By Katie McLaughlin, Court TV
NEW YORK — The first of R. Kelly’s four trials is set to begin today in a New York City courtroom. The R&B star faces charges of sex abuse, racketeering and bribery.
According to prosecutors, Kelly recruited underage girls for sex. He is also alleged to have bribed a state official in Illinois to obtain a fake ID for the singer Aaliyah, so the two could marry. Aaliyah was 15-years-old at the time, and Kelly was 28.
Kelly, 54, faces federal and state charges in cases based in New York, Illinois and Minnesota. He has pleaded not guilty to all of them. The singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has been held in federal custody since July 2019.
Allegations against the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter have been swirling for decades. But, Kelly managed to evade prosecution and enjoy a successful career until his alleged crimes were highlighted in the 2019 Lifetime documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Kelly is believed to have led a team of employees, including bodyguards and managers, who plucked women and girls from concerts and other events and facilitated their meetups with Kelly.
Kelly and Aaliyah were wed in a secret ceremony in Chicago. Vibe magazine later discovered Aaliyah was listed as 18 years old on the marriage certificate. Vibe printed the certificate. The marriage was annulled in February 1995. For the rest of her life, Aaliyah dodged questions about her relationship with Kelly. She died in a plane crash in 2001. Kelly rarely mentions her either. She’s not in his autobiography at all. In a 2016 GQ interview, he said they were “best best best best friends” but refused to comment on their marriage out of respect for Aaliyah and her family.
Kelly is sued for emotional distress. Tiffany Hawkins sued R. Kelly for “personal injuries and emotional distress” she suffered during a three-year relationship with Kelly. According to court documents, Hawkins claims she began having sex with Kelly in 1991 — when she was 15, and he was 24, and the relationship ended when she turned 18 in 1994. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Hawkins sought $10 million in damages, but settled for $250,000 in 1998.
Kelly is sued by Epic Records intern Tracy Sampson. Sampson accused Kelly of engaging in an “indecent” sexual relationship with her when she was 17. She said she was “treated as his personal sex object and cast aside.” She also stated Kelly micromanaged her life, tracking her whereabouts and dictating who she could and could not see. According to the New York Post, that case was settled for an undisclosed sum.
Kelly is sued by Patrice Jones. The Chicago woman claimed Kelly got her pregnant when she was underage, and forced her to have an abortion. Kelly was also sued in 2002 by Montina Woods. Woods claimed Kelly videotaped them having sex without her knowledge or consent. This is the recording known as the “R. Kelly sex tape,” and led to charges of child pornography. Both cases were settled out of court, with the alleged victims receiving undisclosed sums in return for signing non-disclosure agreements.
The so-called “R. Kelly sex tape” led to him being charged with 21 counts of making child pornography. Acts included on the recording included intercourse, oral sex and urination. The tape was sent to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002, and the newspaper passed it on to Chicago police, who confirmed its authenticity with the FBI’s help. The tape led to Kelly being accused of enticing a minor to participate in those acts.
Upon his arrest, Kelly vehemently denied the charges. He posted $750,000 bail and pleaded not guilty. The case didn’t go to trial for six years, during which he enjoyed immense success. Kelly was found not guilty because jurors concluded prosecutors didn’t definitively prove the female on the tape was a minor.
2002 – 2004
From 2002-2004, Kelly faced 12 more counts of child pornography — this time when police searched Kelly’s Florida home. Charges came about when police seized a camera that allegedly contained photos of him having sex with an underage girl. Charges were dropped because a judge agreed police didn’t have enough evidence to justify a search warrant at the time.
In 2017, Buzzfeed released a report accusing R. Kelly of running a sex cult. According to the article, Kelly took advantage of young women who approached him for help with their music careers. He reportedly began to take over every aspect of their lives — confiscating their cell phones and controlling when they could eat, sleep and shower. He allegedly recorded sexual encounters with the women. Family members of those women and girls went on the record, saying their loved ones had been “brainwashed” and all but disappeared. Kelly and his attorneys denied those allegations.
The Buzzfeed report led to more allegations. One alleged victim, Jerhonda Pace, broke her silence — and a non-disclosure agreement — to speak out about having sex with Kelly while she was underage. Another alleged victim, Kitti Jones — who participated in a BBC documentary — recalled starvation and physical abuse at the hands of Kelly. Also in 2018, the #MuteRKelly movement gathered steam. The campaign asked RCA to drop Kelly; they also asked concert promoters and venues to stop booking him, and requested Kelly’s music be removed from Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. That same year, several people on Kelly’s payroll quit — including his personal assistant, publicist and attorney. Kelly denied all claims, and continued to hold concerts despite droves of protesters. In the lyrics to “I Admit,” a song he released in 2018, Kelly sang “Only God can mute me.”
The six-part Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” is released. The series included detailed interviews with alleged victims and footage of parents attempting to rescue their daughters. His record label dropped Kelly two weeks later, and multiple concerts are cancelled. Later that year, Kelly was slapped with new charges in Chicago, including 10-counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Kelly pleaded not guilty. In March 2019, Kelly’s attempts to defend himself in an TV interview with Gayle King backfired. Later that year, prosecutors filed 11 more charges against Kelly — including sexual assault and abuse against a minor between the ages of 13 and 16.
In July 2019, Kelly faced two separate federal indictments in Illinois and Brooklyn. According to the allegations, Kelly and his associates transported underage girls across state lines for illegal sexual activities, including making child pornography. Kelly is also accused of conspiring to obstruct justice by destroying evidence and bribing or intimidating witnesses.
In response, Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg released a statement saying his client was “aware of the investigations and the charges were not a surprise,” adding that Kelly looked forward to “the truth coming out and to his vindication from what has been an unprecedented assault by others for their own personal gain.”
That August, Kelly pleaded not guilty but was denied bail because he was deemed a flight risk. It was also believed Kelly might attempt witness tampering.
A few days later, Kelly was hit with prostitution charges in Minnesota.
Kelly’s March trial in Chicago was delayed when prosecutors seized items from a storage facility housing his tour equipment. Over 100 electronic devices were confiscated, including iPads, smartphones and hard drives.
Charges against Kelly were updated to include a new alleged victim, referred to only as “Minor Six,” who allegedly met Kelly in the late 1990s when she was 14 or 15.
Once again, Kelly pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
In August 2020, three of Kelly’s associates were charged with attempting to intimidate, harass or pay off alleged victims in the singer’s racketeering case.
For over a year, Kelly’s lawyers have been fighting for the R&B star’s release, arguing that he is particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. The court’s ruling was upheld and Kelly has remained behind bars on the grounds that he remains a flight risk and a danger to the community.
In June, lawyers for Kelly filed a motion to withdraw from his New York racketeering trial. Chicago-based attorneys Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard wrote, “Our reasons for withdrawal are significant and it is impossible, in our belief, for us to be able to continue to properly represent Mr. Kelly under the current circumstances.” Kelly confirmed he wanted to switch counsel over to Thomas Farinella and Nicole Becker.
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