R. Kelly Trial Live Updates: Singer Facing Decades in Prison if Convicted in Federal Trial

Live Updates

The federal case against R. Kelly began Wednesday as the R&B singer faces charges of racketeering, kidnapping and forced labor and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars moving people across state borders for prostitution.

Kelly, 54, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Some of the singer's female accusers are expected to testify, including two who participated in the "Surviving R. Kelly" documentary series.

This is the first criminal trial for Kelly since his acquittal in 2008 on child pornography charges. Kelly has been the subject of many allegations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse from women and girls over the years, culminating in his 2019 arrest. A anonymous jury of seven men and five women was selected and sworn in last week following a screening by U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly.

During the prosecution's opening remarks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez argued that Kelly's case was "about a predator," and he would get women and children to meet with him after his shows by giving them backstage passes. He "dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically" once he was alone with them, Melendez said.

She also alleged that Kelly was guilty of recording sex acts with minors, as well as leading a racketeering group content to "fulfill each and everyone one of the defendant's wishes and demands."

"What his success and popularity brought him was access, access to girls, boys and young women," she said.

The defense argued that Kelly's accusers were fans who came to Kelly willingly, rather than being recruited by him and his entourage. Nicole Blank Becker, attorney for Kelly, said the girls who alleged the abuse liked the "notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar."

"They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr. Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent," Becker added.

Becker urged jurors to sift through the "mess of lies" and to not "assume everybody's telling the truth."

The New York trial is projected to last around a month. If convicted, Kelly could face decades in prison.

The live updates for this event have ended.

R. Kelly NY Trial Begins
Singer R. Kelly's federal trial began Wednesday in Brooklyn, New York, as the prosecution and defense gave opening statements. Kelly turns to leave after appearing at a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on September 17, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Antonio Perez/Pool via Getty Images

Accusers Enjoyed 'Notoriety' of Telling Friends That 'They Were With a Superstar,' Kelly's Attorney Says

Nicole Blank Becker, attorney for R. Kelly, described the singer's accusers as people who liked the "notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar" during opening statements in the trial, the Associated Press reported.

"He didn't recruit them. They were fans. They came to Mr. Kelly," she said.

"They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr. Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent," Becker added.

The attorney urged the anonymous jurors to sift through the "mess of lies" from the accusers, and to not "assume everybody's telling the truth," the Associated Press reported.

Clinical Psychologists, DNA Experts to Testify in R. Kelly Trial

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said during opening statements for the prosecution at R. Kelly's trial that clinical psychologists and DNA experts would testify, USA Today reported.

DNA from a t-shirt allegedly belonging to Kelly, birth certificates, text messages, phone and travel records, prescription records, search warrants and video and audio recordings of the accusers, Melendez said.

Two Accusers Testifying Have Never Spoken Publicly About Allegations

Two of the women set to testify in R. Kelly's trial have never spoken publicly about their allegations of sexual abuse, according to prosecutors.

Additionally, two women, whose identities haven't been confirmed, reportedly appeared in the "Surviving R. Kelly" documentary series.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez referred to five of the accusers by first name: Stephanie, Sonia, Jerhonda, Zell and Faith, the New York Times reported. Melendez said they were all between the ages of 16 and 22 at the time of their involvement with Kelly.

Kelly's Defense May Argue Accusers Were Groupies 'Dying to be With Him'

As opening statements in R. Kelly's trial begin, the defense may look to characterize his accusers as rampant fans who wanted to be in his circle.

The singer's defense attorneys have described his alleged victims in court documents as groupies who "were dying to be with him" as they attended his shows, the Associated Press reported.

In contrast, the prosecution has argued that R. Kelly was able to get women and children alone by giving them backstage passes to his shows, after which he "dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically."

Kelly 'Dominated and Controlled' Victims 'Physically, Sexually and Psychologically,' Prosecutor Says

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez told the jury at R. Kelly's trial Wednesday that the singer would get women and children to meet with him after his shows by giving them backstage passes, the Associated Press reported.

He "dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically" once he was alone with them, Melendez said.

Melendez alleged that Kelly was guilty of engaging in and recording sex acts with minors and leading a racketeering group content to "fulfill each and everyone one of the defendant's wishes and demands."

"What his success and popularity brought him was access, access to girls, boys and young women," she said.

R. Kelly Case 'About a Predator,' Prosecutor Argues in Court

A prosecutor argued that R. Kelly's federal case was "about a predator" during opening statements in Brooklyn court that commenced Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez explained the various charges leveraged against Kelly dating back over multiple decades. The singer was acquitted in a child pornography case in 2008 in Chicago, but the stories of alleged victims were brought back to the forefront at the dawn of the #MeToo movement.

Mother of R. Kelly Accuser Says She Hopes Hearing Opening Statement Will Give 'Some Type of Closure'

JonJelyn Savage, mother of R. Kelly's accusers Joycelyn Savage, was present at the singer's Brooklyn trial Wednesday morning.

JonJelyn told reporters outside the courthouse that it was "important" to be there on the first day and she hoped hearing the opening statements could "provide some relief for us and some type of closure."

Joycelyn has been vocal regarding allegations of physical and sexual abuse by the singer against her.

Kelly's Racketeering Charge Could Address Marriage to Aaliyah

As the federal trial against R. Kelly begins, it is expected that the racketeering charge will allow the court to address his marriage to fellow singer Aaliyah, whose full name Aaliyah Dana Haughton.

Prosecutors are expected to argue that when Kelly was 27, he or one of his entourage bribed an employee of the Illinois government to grant a fake ID to Aaliyah, who was 15-years-old at the time, so they could get a marriage license.

A charge of racketeering can entail a range of offenses, including kidnapping, bribery and extortion.