R Kelly is a “predator” whose fame brought him “access to girls, boys and young women”, his sex abuse trial has been told on the opening day of the hearing.
As the long-awaited trial got under way, Assistant US Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez told the jury in New York that the R&B singer used his fame to entice his alleged victims and “dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically”.
Kelly would often record sex acts with minors and controlled a racketeering enterprise of people who were eager to “fulfill each and everyone one of the defendant’s wishes and demands”, she said, adding that “what his success and popularity brought him was access – access to girls, boys and young women”.
“This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot,” Ms Melendez told the court in Brooklyn, as she explained the evidence to be revealed during the singer’s federal trial. “This case is about a predator.”
She described the singer as “a man who used lies, manipulation, threats and physical abuse to dominate his victims and to avoid accountability for years”.
The trial is under way following several delays, mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic, with an anonymous jury of seven men and five women sworn in to hear proceedings.
Kelly, a three-time Grammy winner whose hits include I Believe I Can Fly, Bump ‘N’ Grind and Ignition, has pleaded not guilty and strongly denied any wrongdoing.
One of his legal team was expected to deliver an opening statement on his behalf following Ms Melendez.
Women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred was among those seen entering the court before the start of the trial on Wednesday. “All I can say is that I’m very confident that the court will afford a fair trial both to Mr Kelly and also to the persons who allege that they are victims,” she told reporters.
Nicole Becker and Thomas Farinella, two of Kelly’s defence lawyers, also spoke outside court.
“We’ve been preparing and ready to go,” said Mr Farinella. “Excited for Mr Kelly to have his day in court.”
“He’s going to have his day in court and justice will be served,” said Ms Becker.
The New York case is only part of the legal issues the 54-year-old singer is facing, with sex abuse charges brought in Illinois and Minnesota, too – to which Kelly has also pleaded not guilty.
Kelly is best known for hits including I Believe I Can Fly, Bump ‘N’ Grind and Ignition, but has faced claims of sexual abuse since almost the beginning of his career.