By Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel
R. Kelly went to court on Monday as jury selection began in his sex trafficking trial in Brooklyn, where a conviction could result in decades in prison for the Grammy-winning R&B singer.
Federal prosecutors charged Kelly, 54, with leading an entourage of managers, bodyguards and others to recruit women and girls for him to have sex with and abuse, and to produce pornography, including child pornography.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to a nine-count indictment that includes accusations of racketeering, bribery, extortion and demanding “absolute commitment” from victims, isolating them from friends and family and requiring they call him “Daddy.”
His head now shaved, Kelly wore a blue shirt and tie and light blue shirt in appearing before U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are questioning dozens of potential jurors behind closed doors, aiming to find 40 to question in open court. Hundreds of people had completed 22-page juror questionnaires aimed at ensuring Kelly gets a fair trial.
The trial begins on Aug. 18 and may last several weeks.
Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has been jailed for more than two years.
One of his lawyers said last week that Kelly’s “funds have been depleted,” and that Kelly needed new clothing for trial because he had gained weight in jail.
Sexual abuse allegations have dogged Kelly since the 1990s, when he recorded such hits as “I Believe I Can Fly,” for which he won three Grammy awards, and “Bump n’ Grind.”
Some allegations were discussed in the 2019 Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
The indictment describes Kelly’s alleged mistreatment of five victims, Jane Does #2 through #6, some of whom are expected to testify. Three were underage at the time of the alleged abuse.
Prosecutors also charged Kelly with bribing an Illinois official to obtain fake identification for the singer Aaliyah in 1994, when she was 15 and he was 27, showing her age as 18 so they could get married secretly.
Donnelly will let prosecutors try to show Kelly and Aaliyah, who is Jane Doe #1 in the indictment and died in 2001, had sexual contact.
Prosecutors have said Kelly believed Aaliyah had become pregnant and got married so she, as his wife, would not have to testify if he were criminally charged.
Donnelly has said prosecutors can present evidence that Kelly mistreated other women, including audio recordings of Kelly yelling and physically assaulting women. She also said an alleged male victim can testify that Kelly sexually abused him.
Kelly has also pleaded not guilty to federal charges in Chicago of engaging in sex acts with five underage victims, and sex-related charges by state prosecutors in Illinois and Minnesota.