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R&B star R Kelly is “a predator” who sexually abused women and girls while ordering them to call him “daddy”, a prosecutor said as his long-anticipated trial began in the US.
Assistant attorney Maria Cruz Melendez told a Brooklyn jury Kelly, 54, would lure victims - including boys - with his celebrity before dominating them sexually and mentally.
Kelly is perhaps best known for his 1996 smash hit I Believe I Can Fly, a song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations, weddings and adverts.
He faces charges more than a decade after he was acquitted in a 2008 child abuse image case in Chicago.
The lawyer said that reprieve allowed his music career to continue rewarding him with fame and fortune.
But the #MeToo era caught up with him, emboldening alleged victims to come forward.
Cruz Melendez said: “This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot. This case is about a predator.”
She said Kelly distributed backstage passes to entice children and women to join him, sometimes at his home or studio, where he then “dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically.”
The prosecutor said Kelly would often record sex acts with minors as he controlled a racketeering enterprise of individuals who were loyal and devoted to him, eager to “fulfill each and every one of the defendant’s wishes and demands.”
Cruz Melendez added: “What his success and popularity brought him was access, access to girls, boys and young women.”
But Kelly’s attorney, Nicole Blank Becker, portrayed her client as a victim of women, some of whom enjoyed the “notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar”.
“He didn’t recruit them,” she said. “They were fans. They came to Mr Kelly.
“They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent.”
Becker claimed it would be a stretch to believe he orchestrated an elaborate criminal enterprise, like a mob boss
She warned jurors they’ll have to sort through “a mess of lies” from women with an agenda.
“Don’t assume everybody’s telling the truth,” she said.
The women’s stories received global exposure following Lifetime’s documentary Surviving R Kelly.
It explored how an entourage of supporters protected Kelly and silenced his victims for decades, foreshadowing a federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed in Kelly in jail in 2019.
Prosecutors have lined up multiple female accusers, mostly referred to in court as “Jane Does” and former associates who have never spoken publicly before about their experiences with Kelly.
They are expected to offer evidence about how Kelly’s managers, bodyguards and other employees helped him recruit women and girls, and sometimes boys, for sexual exploitation.
They say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly in the New York City area and elsewhere, in violation of the Mann Act, the 1910 law that made it illegal to “transport any woman or girl” across state lines “for any immoral purpose”.
When the women and girls arrived at their lodgings, a member of Kelly’s entourage would set down rules about not speaking to each other, how they should dress and how they needed permission from Kelly before eating or going to the bathroom, prosecutors say.
They allegedly were required to call him “Daddy”.
An anonymous jury made up of seven men and five women was sworn in to hear the case.
The trial, coming after several delays due mostly to the pandemic, unfolds under coronavirus precautions restricting the press and the public to overflow courtrooms with video feeds.
The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly.
He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.