R&B star R Kelly jury members summoned to trial on sex trafficking

NEW YORK (AP) – After several delays, first phase of sex trade with R&B hitmaker R. Kelly started Monday with jury selection in New York City.

Prolonged health threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a shake-up by Kelly’s defense team pushed the trial out this summer, nearly two years after he was accused of abusing women and girls for nearly two decades.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly began questioning potential jurors about whether they can keep an open mind about Kelly two years after he was accused of abusing women and girls for nearly two decades. She reminded them that defendants were presumed innocent and that they should not be affected by anything they have previously heard about the case.

The procedure was carried out amid pandemic measures, which limited the press and the public to overcrowding courtrooms with video feeds. Much of the time, Kelly and potential jurors were not clearly visible on feeds, and the sound was often faint.

The process was expected to last at least until the end of the day Monday and possibly until Tuesday.

Kelly, 54, has been locked up since he was indicted, mostly housed in a federal prison in Chicago. He was transferred to the Federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn last month to face a lawsuit in a case that further diminished his superstar status.

Last week, defense attorney Deveraux Cannick told a judge that Kelly should be measured for new clothes because he has gained so much weight in prison. And he asked to be provided with court records at no cost because Kelly has not been able to work for two years and said, “His funds are exhausted.”

The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of running a business with executives, bodyguards and other staff who helped him recruit women and girls for sex. Federal attorneys say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly.

Defense attorneys have said Kelly’s alleged victims were groups who showed up for his shows and announced they were “dying with him.” They only started accusing him of abuse years later when the public mood changed in the #MeToo era, they said.

The trial was expected to start earlier this year. But opening statements were moved to August 18, after Kelly fired his original lawyers.

Jurors are expected to hear testimony from several of his prosecutors. A judge has ruled that the women will only be mentioned by their first name.

Prosecutors are also expected to provide evidence that Kelly planned with others to pay for a fake ID to Aaliyah, a singer on her way up as a 15-year-old, at a secret ceremony in 1994.

Aaliyah is identified as “Jane Doe # 1” in court documents because she was still a minor when Kelly initiated a sexual relationship with her and thought she had become pregnant, according to the newspapers.

“As a result, in an attempt to protect himself from criminal charges in connection with his illegal sexual relationship with Jane Doe # 1, Kelly arranged to secretly marry her to prevent her from being forced to testify against him in the future, “the newspapers said.

Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at the age of 22.

The case is only part of the legal danger for the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He has also pleaded not guilty to gender-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

Kelly won several Grammys for “I Believe I Can Fly,” a 1996 song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations, weddings, commercials and elsewhere.

Nearly a decade later, he began releasing what eventually became 22 musical chapters in “Trapped in the Closet,” a drama that spins a tale of sexual deception and became a cult classic.

But Kelly has been referred for decades by complaints and allegations about his sexual behavior, including a 2002 child pornography case in Chicago. He was acquitted in that case in 2008.

The investigation was intensified again among the #MeToo movement in recent years, with several women going public with accusations against the singer. The pressure intensified with the release of the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” in 2019.

Penalty issues soon followed.

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