Kelly was back in court to hear the opening statements in his long-anticipated federal trial arising from years of allegations. He has denied the charges.
As the case opened, assistant US attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said: “This case is about a predator.”
Explaining the evidence to be given at the trial, Ms Melendez alleged that Kelly, 54, used his fame to abuse others. “What his success and popularity brought him was access, access to girls, boys and young women,” she said. “This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot.”
Prosecutors seem set to allege that Kelly and his entourage – which has been described in court documents as an “enterprise” – organised for his alleged victims to travel across state lines to meet him in violation of federal law.
Lawyers for Kelly meanwhile characterised his accusers in legal documents as “disgruntled groupies” who wanted the attention of the R&B singer, and only revealed their allegations years later.
According to reports from inside the courtroom, his lawyers said he and his accusers – identified in court as “Jane Does” – “all became like a family” and “when the relationships went sour ... these individuals became angry, resentful and even spiteful”.
Kelly’s lawyer, Nicole Blank Becker, went on to say the allegations against her client were a “mess of lies” and that there were a number of “untruths”.
Ms Becker further alleged: “He didn’t recruit them. They were fans. They came to Mr Kelly” and the alleged victims enjoyed the “notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar”.
“Don’t assume everybody’s telling the truth,” Ms Becker told the jury. “They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent.”
Kelly denies claims that he sexually abused and exploited women, girls, and at least one boy during the height of his fame, as well as charges of bribery, racketeering and coercion.
More than a decade has passed since Kelly was acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case in Chicago. However, many of the women allegedly abused by him came forward in the Lifetime documentary Surviving R Kelly.
The series explored how an entourage of supporters protected Kelly and silenced his alleged victims for decades, foreshadowing a federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed Kelly in jail in 2019.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn have reportedly lined-up multiple female accusers and cooperating former associates who have never spoken publicly before about their experiences with Kelly.
They are expected to offer testimony about how Kelly’s managers, bodyguards and other employees allegedly helped him recruit women and girls – and sometimes boys – for sexual exploitation. They say the group selected alleged 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”.
An anonymous jury made up of seven men and five women has been sworn in to hear the case. The trial, coming after several delays due mostly to the pandemic, will unfold under coronavirus precautions restricting the press and the public to overflow courtrooms with video feeds.
Kelly has also pleaded not guilty to further sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation for specialist, independent and confidential support. For more information, visit their website here.