TW: This post contains graphic details of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Since the trial against disgraced R&B singer Robert “R. Kelly” Kelly commenced on August 9, it’s been a courthouse of horrors, with testimony from Kelly’s victims now rolling in. The trial has been a long time in the making, as Kelly was first arrested for the charges in 2019, and has since been serving time in Chicago after he was denied bail. For this trial, he’s been transferred to a Brooklyn jail as the events unfold at the Eastern District of New York courthouse. In addition to pandemic-related delays, the court proceedings faced further delays as new charges were added, Kelly made changes to his legal team, and three of his associates were charged with tampering with evidence and intimidating victims involved in the case.
In 2017, Buzzfeed published an investigative report on Kelly and his “sex cult,” which spurred the further investigation into the article’s claims. So, did the release of the Lifetime documentary, Surviving R. Kelly in 2019. The investigation’s findings, in addition to the stories from more victims, led to the ongoing trial.
Kelly currently faces federal charges in New York for sex crimes and racketeering, spanning over two decades. These charges are treated as a criminal enterprise Kelly created with the use of his fame and wealth, along with the help of managers, gofers, and other members of his entourage. Kelly, the ringleader, with the aid of his staff and entourage, recruited victims— oftentimes young fans found at Kelly’s own concerts—with the intent of sexually abusing them. The indictment claims Kelly used his position of authority to “prey upon women and girls who attended his concerts so that the victims could be available to engage in illegal sexual activity with him at a moment’s notice.”
According to the indictment, the women and girls were allegedly forced to follow a number of “rules,” laid out by Kelly and close members of his enterprise. Kelly controlled when they could leave their room, eat food, and even when they could use the bathroom. His victims had to wear baggy clothing when they were away from Kelly or when other men were present. Kelly also had them refer to him as “Daddy.” They were isolated from their families and friends and made financially dependent on Kelly for their wellbeing.
In connection with the sex crimes and racketeering charges, Kelly is also accused of kidnapping, sexual trafficking across state lines, forced labor, child pornography, and knowingly infecting victims with an STD. The New York trial examines incidents that took place from 1999 through 2018 and it has presented six victims, including the late singer Aaliyah. The allegations concerning Aaliyah involve their 1994 marriage, which took place when Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was 15. New findings revealed that Kelly along with others allegedly bribed an Illinois official into making a fake ID for Aaliyah that stated she was 18.
The 54-year-old faces multiple federal charges (in both the Chicago and New York cases) which cover incidents that took place between 1994 and 2018. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. According to NPR, the government is also hoping jurors hear and see what they say is evidence of other, uncharged criminal offenses committed by Kelly. Those allegations include 20 Jane Does and two John Does.
The trial is expected to last one month. Once the New York trial has finished, Kelly will go to Illinois for another trial, which pertains to charges for sex crimes, including child pornography, and obstruction of justice for allegedly making hush-money payments to silence victims. The singer also faces charges in the state of Minnesota—however, depending on the outcome of the New York trial, the subsequent trials may not take place.
Though it’s only been a week, the testimonies have already been graphic and disturbing. The first witness to take the stand, Jerhonda Johnson Pace, said that she was only 16 when she first met Kelly. Their relationship quickly became sexual and she alleged that he often wanted her to wear pigtails and “dress like a Girl Scout.” She said he would also film their sex acts so he could go over them later and show her tips for “improvement.” Pace shared that she “ended up with herpes” and was diagnosed by a doctor who made a house call to Kelly’s residence. In addition to detailing the physical abuse she experienced, Pace also said that Kelly was deeply controlling. She said he controlled when she was allowed to eat, when she could make phone calls, and what she was allowed to wear, and when she could use the bathroom.
Another witness—who is only identified as Jane Doe #5—also said she contracted herpes from Kelly. “This man purposely gave me something he knew he had,” she said. “He could have controlled the situation.” Though the pain from her flare-ups was so bad that she could barely walk or have sex, Kelly allegedly laughed it off and told her that “her pussy was broken.”And like Pace, Jane Doe was also underaged when she met Kelly. She was an aspiring singer and she hoped that Kelly would be able to help her career. However, things took a turn and became sexual—she said he told her he could only get an audition if he ejaculated. The witness shared extremely disturbing details of a time Kelly forced her to smear feces on her face and film it. She also testified that when she became pregnant in 2017, Kelly allegedly forced her to get an abortion. She said he previously told her that he wanted her “to keep [her] body tight.”
Kelly’s first legal battle started in 1996, when Tiffany Hawkins sued him for “personal injuries and emotional distress.” Hawkins was 15 when she and Kelly first engaged in sex; Kelly was 24 years old at the time.
In 2001, Kelly was sued by a former intern at Epic Records, who claimed the singer coerced her “into an indecent sexual relationship” when she was 17 years old. This case was settled for an undisclosed amount of money.
In 2002, the singer was charged with 21 counts of child pornography, involving intercourse, oral sex, urination, and other sexual acts. He immediately posted bail, and while the trial was on hold for six years, he released Trapped In The Closet. He was found not guilty on all counts when the jury came to conclusion that the girl present in the videos could not be proved to be a minor. From 2002 through 2004, Kelly was charged with 12 more counts of child pornography, which were eventually dropped when the judge agreed that the Florida police lacked sufficient evidence to justify a search.