To Catch a Predator? The R. Kelly Federal Trial Begins

After years of rumors, allegations, videos, and an explosive documentary, the federal trial of disgraced R&B Singer, R. Kelly began Wednesday in a Brooklyn, NY courtroom. The trial started with only R. Kelly, attorneys, witnesses, and jurors allowed in the courtroom. Media and the public observed through a video feed in another room.  After being acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008, R. Kelly faces years in prison if convicted of the numerous federal charges he is charged with.  They include sex trafficking, kidnapping, and the sexual exploitation of children.

In opening arguments, Assistant US attorney, Maria Cruz Melendez outline the government’s case against R. Kelly.  The prosecution intends to focus on six accusers, including the late R&B singer, Aaliyah who R. Kelly married.  In her argument, she detailed how R. Kelly often recorded his victims for his personal gratification and as a form of intimidation.  His victims and former associates are expected to testify at trial.

“This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot. This case is about a predator.”-Asst. U.S. Atty Maria Cruz Melendez

Melendez painted a picture of R. Kelly as an abuser who “sexually, physically and psychologically” abused multiple victims, often isolating them from their friends and family.  “This case is about a predator.  A man who, for decades, used his fame, popularity, and a network of people to target girls, boys, and young women for his own sexual gratification”, Melendez said.

His defense attorney, Nicole Becker refuted the prosecution’s claims saying, “You are going to hear that some of the relationships Mr. Kelly had were beautiful.  They knew exactly what they were getting into.” Expected to last a month, the prosecution plans to introduce evidence including videos and testimonies of abuse all happening after his 2008 acquittal.  One of R. Kelly’s accusers, Jerhonda Pace appeared in court Weds and testified about her relationship with R. Kelly when she was 16 years old.  She described losing her virginity to him in 2009 at his home in the Chicago suburbs.  She testified the relationship continued even after she revealed her age to him.  Pace was one of the subjects of the explosive documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly”.

Pace continued her testimony Thursday saying R. Kelly often videotaped their sexual encounters and even asked her to dress up like a girl scout wearing “pigtails”.  She also talked about “Rob’s Rules”, a detailed list of instructions R. Kelly demanded that dictated how she could look, speak, dress, or go to the bathroom. On cross-examination, defense attorney, Deveraux Cannick accused Pace of “being a stalker” and for being deceitful when she did not initially disclose her age to R. Kelly.

“These women, these witnesses who take the stand-he didn’t recruit them. They were fans, they came to R. Kelly”-Defense Attorney Nicole Becker

Jerhonda Pace is the first witness to testify in the trial that is expected to last 4-6 weeks.  A jury of 7 men and 5 women will determine the singer’s fate when the trial concludes.  This federal case is the first of a slew of cases against the singer.  R. Kelly faces federal child pornography and obstruction charges in addition to state charges on multiple counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in Illinois.

Kelly has plead not guilty to all charges and is currently in custody after being transferred from a federal facility in Illinois to New York. Often referred to as the “king of R&B”, Kelly enjoyed a chart-topping career as a singer and songwriter.

Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20 and @DanieSandersofficial.

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