Opening statements in the federal trial of R Kelly got underway in Brooklyn on Wednesday. The disgraced singer is charged with an array of sex crimes against six women and girls, including kidnapping, trafficking, and forced labor.
According to The Daily Beast, in her opening statement Assistant United States Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez sought to portray Kelly as the leader of a criminal enterprise who knowingly facilitated his crimes.
Cruz Melendez described Kelly as a “predator… who used his fame, popularity and the individuals at his disposal to target and groom girls, boys and young women for his sexual gratification.”
Prosecutors say they’ll present the jury with evidence including text messages between Kelly and his alleged victims, as well as video and audio recordings Kelly made with his alleged victims, which he then used as collateral to ensure “these women wouldn’t talk.” Cruz Melendez warned that “this evidence will be touch to watch.”
Before the jury entered the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to offer evidence of Kelly’s sexual abuse dating back to 1991 — during which time Kelly was briefly married to Aaliyah, then only 15 years old.
Cruz Melendez said Kelly married Aaliyah after learning that she was pregnant. Fearful of potential legal consequences, Kelly allegedly bribed a government employee in Illinois to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah so that they could get married, Cruz Melendez stated.
According to The New York Times, Judge Donnelly also allowed prosecutors’ request to hear evidence that Kelly knowingly gave two women herpes in 2001, as well as evidence that he gave the sexually transmitted disease to a minor in 1995.
Kelly’s defense attorney, Nicole Blank Becker, told the jury that all of the singer’s relationships were consensual, and she said the individuals who testify during the trial are “angry, resentful, and even spiteful” and “have an agenda.”
“We believe their testimony will crumble,” Blank Becker stated. “There will be so many untruths told to you, ladies and gentlemen, that even the government won’t be able to untangle the mess of lies.”
Outside of his federal trial in Brooklyn, Kelly is also facing federal charges in Illinois, as well as state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.