NEW YORK – In the years leading up to his last trial, R&B superstar R. Kelly toured nationally and sold countless records. The day of the verdict in 2008, he bowed his head, praised Jesus, and walked out of a Cook County courtroom acquitted of child pornography charges.
But according to federal prosecutors in New York, he continued the same alleged pattern of sexual molestation, physical abuse and psychological control that he had been perpetuating for years: A criminal enterprise operating just under the surface of his music empire.
Thirteen years after that first acquittal, in a federal courtroom 800 miles away, Kelly faces a drastically different landscape. His music was boycotted across the country; his alleged abuses have been the target of in-depth investigative journalism and a popular Lifetime docuseries; he has been in federal pretrial custody for more than two years; and he has pending cases in four jurisdictions across the country.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in New York are slated to deliver opening statements in the first of those cases to go to trial. They have charged Kelly under a racketeering law more commonly used for mob bosses, cartel kingpins and leaders of street gangs.
They allege an extraordinarily broad range of crimes, all pointing to a coordinated effort to supply Kelly with boys, girls and women and abuse them to keep them under control. Kelly’s defense team, which has had a turbulent summer, will of course address the jury in Brooklyn as well, expected to argue that Kelly’s accusers are out to smear him for their own personal gain.
Kelly’s lead attorney, Thomas Farinella, tweeted Tuesday night that “the public has only heard one side of the story” and he and his team looked forward to attacking the case against Kelly in court.
“After all, the RICO ‘Enterprise’ is based on a series of independent relationships and events that the government is trying to patch together like different types of fabrics and trying to pass it off as silk,” Farinella wrote.
A jury of seven men, five women and six alternates was selected last week. They are being identified by number rather than name, and they will be escorted to and from the courtroom in a “partial sequestration” due to the high-profile nature of the case and allegations of jury tampering at Kelly’s 2008 trial.
Among the members of the panel: A male supervisor for an undisclosed city department who likes playing soccer and pingpong; a female fraud investigator and active churchgoer; a male transportation manager who watches Formula One racing in his spare time; a female cook for a local hospital with three children; and a male hotel guest services assistant who also dabbles in filmmaking.
One juror, a flight attendant for the past 18 years, said during questioning last week that he has a friend who is a relative of Bill Cosby and followed the comedian’s criminal sexual abuse trial. The juror said nothing about that high-profile case would affect his ability to be fair in judging the evidence against Kelly.
Many of the members of jury acknowledged they’d heard of Kelly and bits and pieces of the allegations, but all promised to put what they’d heard aside. One man on the jury said at first he thought the defendant was R. Crumb, the popular American cartoonist.
They are expected to hear about Kelly’s rushed marriage to singer Aaliyah in suburban Rosemont when she was underage. Many of Kelly’s accusers are slated to take the stand, including Azriel Clary, who lived at Kelly’s Trump Tower apartment until early 2020 and alleges myriad abuses at Kelly’s hands
The trial is expected to several last weeks. If convicted on all counts, Kelly could face from 10 years to up to life in prison, according to prosecutors.
And either way, after his New York proceedings have concluded, he still faces a federal indictment in Chicago on allegations he conspired with two former employees to rig his 2008 Cook County trial by paying off witnesses and victims to change their stories. And he has four pending cases in Cook County, alleging sexual abuse and assault. Kelly also has been charged in Minnesota with solicitation.