R. Kelly's Attorneys Begin Arguments After Weeks of Testimony by Prosecution's Witnesses

R. Kelly's attorneys are set to begin their arguments after weeks of testimony by dozens of witnesses called by the prosecution in the sex trafficking trial.

The defense plans to call former Kelly employees as witnesses in an effort to cast doubt on some of the testimony given by his accusers, who have supported the prosecution's sweeping allegations.

The singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges accusing him of running a Chicago-based operation involving managers, bodyguards and other employees who helped him recruit and transport his victims.

Transporting people across state lines "for any immoral purpose" is illegal under the Mann Act.

Kelly has denied any allegations of sexual assault, claiming the women were groupies who wanted to take advantage of his fame and fortune until the #MeToo movement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

R. Kelly Trial
Defense attorneys for R. Kelly are set to begin their arguments in the sex trafficking trial after weeks of testimony by the prosecution's witnesses. Above, R&B singer R. Kelly, center, arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building for a hearing on June 26, 2019 in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Several women and two men who were in Kelly's celebrity orbit testified about how he grooming them for unwanted sex and psychological tormented them—mostly when they were teenagers—in episodes dating to the 1990s. Their accounts were backed at least in part by former Kelly employees whose own testimony suggested they were essentially paid off to look the other way or actively enable him.

Kelly's lawyers must find ways to counter testimony from accusers alleging an array of perverse misconduct spanning three decades. Among those alleged scenes: his entourage locking a radio station intern in a room where he sexually assaulted her while she was passed out; witnesses claiming that he gave them herpes without disclosing he had an STD; Kelly shooting a shaming video of one alleged victim showing her smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking arbitrary rules meant to protect his fragile ego.

A large chunk of the testimony focused on a scandal involving his youngest and most famous alleged victim: R&B singer Aaliyah. One of the witnesses described seeing Kelly sexually abusing Aaliyah around 1993, when Aaliyah was only 13 or 14. The former backup performer also told the jury Kelly sexually abused her as well when she was 15—another in a series of accusers who say he exploited them when they were underage.

The jury had previously heard evidence about a fraud marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated Aaliyah. A marriage license that was put into evidence falsely listed her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.

Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number. She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.

The last government witness was an expert witness on abusive relationships. Dawn Hughes testified about studies showing that many abusers systematically isolate, demean, subjugate and spy on their victims as means of control—all tactics allegedly used by Kelly. Generally speaking, it isn't unusual for powerful people like Kelly to be surrounded by underlings who "knew about it and didn't do anything," Hughes said.

Members of the press and public haven't actually seen the jailed Kelly in person since the trial began on August 18. U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly has barred people not directly involved in the case from the courtroom in what she called a coronavirus precaution.

Observers are restricted to an overflow courtroom, leaving them to try to follow the case through a video feed.

R. Kelly sex trafficking trial
Prosecutors in R. Kelly's sex trafficking trial at Brooklyn Federal Court in New York, played video and audio recordings for the jury they say back up allegations he abused women and girls On September 15. Above, Kelly arrives for the first day of jury selection in his child pornography trial at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on May 9, 2008 Charles Rex Arbogast, File/AP Photo