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Trial Prosecutors Say R. Kelly Used His Fame To Target Girls For Exploitation


The first federal trial of the singer R. Kelly has begun. He is accused of sexual exploitation. And some will find these next three minutes disturbing. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas was in the courtroom in Brooklyn yesterday and is on the line. Good morning.


INSKEEP: I said the first trial. Would you just reorient us to what we're looking at here?

TSIOULCAS: Sure. This is the first of two federal trials he's facing. One's in New York, and one's in Illinois. And here in New York, he's being accused of running a criminal enterprise, not unlike the mob, with a purpose, according to prosecutors, of luring girls and young women into sexual relationships. And he is charged with, also, sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping and racketeering. And there are six alleged victims here in the New York charges, including the singer Aaliyah, whom he married when he was 27 and she was 15.

INSKEEP: OK. So how did lawyers and prosecutors begin making their cases?

TSIOULCAS: Well, the government started out by laying out its case against Kelly, saying that he's, quote, "a man who used his fame, popularity and the individuals at his disposal to target and groom girls, boys and young women for his sexual gratification." And, of course, the defense disputes that characterization. Defense attorney Nicole Blank Becker characterized the victims and witnesses as, quote, "liars." She also said, quote, "they're going to tell you Mr. Kelly is this monster. You're also going to hear that some of these relationships were beautiful."

INSKEEP: OK. So that was the defense characterization. And then the testimony began.

TSIOULCAS: Right. We heard testimony from Jerhonda Pace, who met Kelly in 2008. She was a super fan who skipped school regularly to attend his trial back in Chicago, from which he was acquitted. He was being tried on charges of making child pornography. At that time, Jerhonda Pace was 14 years old.

INSKEEP: OK. So she told her story. And you're there in the courtroom, I guess. What was it like in and around the courtroom?

TSIOULCAS: Well, of course, Steve, there's really intense media interest. So journalists yesterday were lining up before dawn to make sure they got a seat in the building. And we're being stationed in overflow rooms, watching a video and audio feeds from the actual courtroom. And there are some - also dedicated R. Kelly super fans there, too. They're not speaking to me and other press. But they're definitely a presence.

INSKEEP: What happens next?

TSIOULCAS: Well, we're going to have a pretty long slog ahead because of the way the state has - excuse me - the feds have structured this trial. They need to prove not only that Kelly acted as a predator, but that he had his entourage assisting him in luring girls and women. And the judge estimates the trial will run about a month. And, of course, after that is the Illinois trial. And if he's found guilty in New York, he faces 10 years to life imprisonment.

INSKEEP: OK. Anastasia Tsioulcas following the trial of R. Kelly in Brooklyn. Thanks.

TSIOULCAS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.