After decades of accusations and investigations, the federal case against R. Kelly goes to trial Wednesday in Brooklyn — the first criminal trial that the singer has faced since he was acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008.
For over two and a half decades, Mr. Kelly, 54, has been the focus of persistent accusations of sexual abuse of women and girls, including questions about his marriage to the singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old. Those allegations have grown louder in recent years, culminating in a damning documentary series called “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Now the R&B star, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, will face a sprawling racketeering case, among other charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
What are the charges?
Mr. Kelly is facing one charge of racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and forced labor, and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting anyone across state lines for prostitution.
Mr. Kelly was initially arrested on these charges in July 2019, but his trial was delayed because of the pandemic and scheduling issues with cases he faces in other states.
Who will testify?
The trial will center around six unnamed women. Prosecutors say the singer physically abused and psychologically manipulated many of them and controlled many aspects of their lives, including when they could eat and use the bathroom.
The racketeering charge Mr. Kelly faces allows prosecutors to bring up his marriage to singer Aaliyah.
In the 1990s, Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, and Mr. Kelly were routinely working together; Mr. Kelly was the executive producer of her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number,” and even named it.
Prosecutors plan to argue that Mr. Kelly, who was 27 at the time, believed that Aaliyah became pregnant by him, and he and others in his cohort bribed an Illinois government employee to procure a fake ID for Aaliyah so they could get a marriage license that listed her as 18.
To substantiate the racketeering charge, prosecutors will introduce allegations of other crimes that are not included in the indictment. They include accusations of sexual abuse and could involve up to 14 people, including a man who prosecutors said will testify that when he was 17, Mr. Kelly pressured him to have sex.
Mr. Kelly’s defense is likely to say that all accusers are “disgruntled groupies” who had consensual sex with him but changed their stories out of regret or for money — an argument they have made in court filings.
Who are the jurors?
The anonymous 12-person jury — seven men and five women — was seated last week and sworn in last Wednesday. Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who will preside over the trial at Federal District Court in Brooklyn, questioned prospective jurors over three days to gauge their awareness of Mr. Kelly and the accusations against him, their views and personal experience on matters of sexual misconduct and their opinion of the #MeToo movement.
The racial breakdown of the group remains unclear. But several jury members shared details about themselves and their experiences during the in-person selection.
The group includes a mother of two school-aged children; a fraud investigator who said she is active in her church; a woman with several incarcerated family members; and a man who works at a hotel.
One of the jurors, a longtime flight attendant, said he believes “trial by the media is worse than a trial by jury.” The man told the judge that he has a friend in the family of Bill Cosby, whose 2018 conviction for sexual assault was recently overturned, but that he did not question the jury’s verdict. He said he had heard only minor bits of information about R. Kelly in the news.
The trial is expected to last a month and will not be televised. The press and public will watch the trial from two overflow rooms in the courthouse.
What happened the last time?
Sexual abuse allegations against Mr. Kelly have been shared widely in the music industry for nearly three decades, but they became public at his 2008 trial in Chicago, which began six years after he was indicted.
After seven and a half hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Mr. Kelly of child pornography charges. The trial had centered on a videotape that prosecutors said showed Mr. Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. She refused to testify.
That trial excluded allegations made by other girls and their parents, who said Mr. Kelly used his fame to lure them into his sphere to have sex with them.
Why is this time different?
Unlike the 2008 trial, in which the prosecution’s primary witness declined to testify, several of the women at the center of the federal indictment in New York are expected to take the stand.
Prosecutors are also likely to be able to make a broader case against Mr. Kelly through the racketeering charge, a tactic that’s also been used in other high-profile trials, including the case against the leader of the Nxivm sex cult, Keith Raniere.
The rise of the #MeToo movement since the arrest of Harvey Weinstein has changed public perceptions about allegations of sexual assault, which are now taken more seriously.