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Prosecutors in R. Kelly Case Rest After 5 Weeks of Searing Testimony

After five weeks of testimony that included several disturbing firsthand accounts of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by R. Kelly, one of the …

Prosecutors in R. Kelly Case Rest After 5 Weeks of Searing Testimony

After five weeks of testimony that included several disturbing firsthand accounts of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by R. Kelly, one of the biggest stars in R&B music, prosecutors rested their case on Monday.

Eleven accusers — nine women and two men — took the stand against Mr. Kelly, who has been trailed by allegations of sexual misconduct for decades but has been tried only once, and never convicted. Six of the accusers who testified said they were underage when their sexual encounters with the singer began.

Prosecutors have sought to prove that the singer’s public image as an alluring lyricist and charismatic performer served to disguise and enable a predator who enforced suffocating rules on the women in his orbit and doled out beatings when those rules were broken.

Women described being raped, imprisoned, drugged and forced to have abortions by Mr. Kelly and the people under him. A male accuser, who said he had been groomed by Mr. Kelly since he was 17, testified that he had been “brainwashed” by the singer.

Mr. Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, is charged with one count of racketeering and eight violations of an anti-sex-trafficking law known as the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting individuals across state lines for the purpose of sex. Mr. Kelly, who has pleaded not guilty to all the accusations, also faces a federal trial in Chicago on child pornography and obstruction charges, in addition to state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

His four-lawyer defense team on Monday offered a list of about a half-dozen witnesses whom they planned to call, though it was not clear whether they would call all of the witnesses or add others; Mr. Kelly was not among those listed. During cross-examination, Mr. Kelly’s lawyers have sought to cast his accusers as jealous fans who became angry when they fell out of the singer’s favor.

R. Kelly’s lawyers, Thomas Farinella,  left, and Nicole Blank Becker, center, were expected to begin their case on Monday.Credit…Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times

Although not provided in the witness list read aloud in open court, a medical expert could testify about Mr. Kelly’s sexual health, challenging the accounts of four women who said that the singer knowingly infected them with herpes, an incurable sexually transmitted disease.

Testifying in his own defense would represent a potentially perilous strategy for Mr. Kelly. After facing new legal scrutiny in 2019, Mr. Kelly lost his composure in a widely viewed interview with Gayle King of “CBS This Morning,” jumping out of his chair and pounding his chest on camera.

During their cross-examination of witnesses, Mr. Kelly’s defense team has focused on challenging the basis of the racketeering charge itself, arguing that the prosecution’s depiction of a vast illicit organization is misguided, and that the singer ran nothing more than a music business. They have also aimed to persuade jurors that his accusers had consensual sex with him and later fabricated their accounts of abuse and misconduct, homing in on minor changes in aspects of their stories over time and the willingness of some to interact with Mr. Kelly for years.

The defense will aim to advance that portrayal, presenting Mr. Kelly as a generous romantic partner who treated the women around him like family and was blindsided by their allegations.

The image lies in stark contrast to the one painted during the government’s case, built around the accounts of five women: Jerhonda, Stephanie, Faith, Sonja and a woman who testified under a pseudonym. The R&B singer Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash two decades ago, and her brief illegal marriage to Mr. Kelly in 1994 also lies at the heart of the government’s case. The accusations would usually be too old to prosecute, but the racketeering charge allows the government more flexibility.

Several witnesses have testified about Mr. Kelly’s interactions with Aaliyah, including an employee who testified that he bribed a government employee for a fake ID for her when she was 15, so she could be married to Mr. Kelly after he came to fear she was pregnant with his child. A witness last week also said she saw Mr. Kelly performing a sex act on Aaliyah when she was 13 or 14, making her the youngest girl whom Mr. Kelly is accused of sexually abusing in the prosecution’s case.

Understand the R. Kelly Trial


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What are the charges? Mr. Kelly is facing one charge of racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and forced labor, and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting anyone across state lines for prostitution.

Who is testifying? The trial centers around six women, several of whom are expected to testify. Prosecutors say the singer physically abused and psychologically manipulated many of them and controlled several aspects of their lives, including when they could eat and use the bathroom. At least three were underage.

His marriage to Aaliyah. Part of the case involves R. Kelly’s marriage to singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when they wed in 1994. Mr. Kelly’s former tour manager testified that R. Kelly bribed a government employee in 1994 so that he could obtain a fake ID for her.

The 2008 trial. The performer was acquitted in a high-profile criminal case brought against him on child pornography charges in 2008. The trial was centered on a videotape that prosecutors said showed the R. Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. She refused to testify. Here’s a full timeline of the allegations.

Some of the evidence prosecutors have presented — including a pile of letters his accusers say he forced them to write — was painstakingly collected by Mr. Kelly himself as he began preparing his own defense years before he went to trial. Prosecutors have also presented documentation regarding his marriage to Aaliyah, as well as medical records supporting testimony from the singer’s doctor that “100 percent, he has herpes.”

In a text message that Mr. Kelly sent in 2017 to a woman he had been having sex with since she was 17, he told her he wanted to “groom” her and “be bonded” with her “one million percent.” That woman, who testified for three days under a pseudonym earlier in the trial — longer than any other witness — told the jury that Mr. Kelly’s rules were so copious “I would write them down to remember” and hashed through the many intricate instructions of the singer, whom she was told to call Daddy.

“Trust daddy and do whatever he says, whatever he says, with no rebuttal, disrespect or rebellion,” she read aloud from a note to the jury. “Remember how I acted in the beginning, bubbly and like a child, pure and with no negative intentions, and remember to stay true to who I am, humble, happy, innocent and beautiful to daddy reminding him of his mother and child.”

Set against the backdrop of the MeToo movement, the trial is the first time accusers have taken the stand against the R&B singer, despite a trail of accusations spanning decades. And in a critical moment of the movement, the case is also the first time that a majority of the accusers have been Black women in such a high-profile case.

Dawn M. Hughes, an expert in clinical and forensic psychology who testified last week as the prosecution’s final witness, aimed to help jurors connect bits and pieces of the witnesses’ accounts with a broader understanding of the long-term impacts of abuse and how it can “jumble together” the memories of accusers — making them act in ways that can later appear disingenuous.

Recalling the biblical story of David and Goliath, Ms. Hughes said that speaking out against a celebrity, like Mr. Kelly, is made more difficult by his wealth of resources and a protective community insulating him from criticism. Now, that community is at the center of the case against Mr. Kelly.

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