The federal trial against R. Kelly began on Wednesday morning. Armed with decades of allegations, federal prosecutors allege he is a “predator” who abused and controlled his victims for years.
“This case is about a predator,” Assistant US Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said in her opening statement.
Over the next several weeks, the government will present their case arguing that Kelly led an “enterprise” that exploited his fame to sexually abuse numerous victims, many of them underage.
Kelly “used his fame, power, and a network of people” as well as “lies, manipulation, threats, and physical abuse” to control his victims, many who were aspiring singers or fans who met him at his own concerts, Melendez informed the jury.
“The defendant quickly learned he could take advantage of this access — and he did,” she said.
Two of his lawyers are withdrawing from the case just weeks prior. Of the attorneys representing him, Nicole Blank Becker, offered an opening statement on Wednesday where she instilled doubt on Kelly’s accusers, saying their allegations are a “mess of lies” that “will crumble” under cross-examination.
She encouraged the jury to be suspicious of the alleged victims, stating they “have an agenda” and claiming many “became angry, resentful, and even spiteful” when their “relationships” ended, and “that’s when they took advantage of their situation.”
“Don’t assume that everyone’s telling the truth,” she said.
While prosecutors plan on presenting evidence that Kelly allegedly abused 22 victims, the charges laid out in the indictment center around six victims, most of whom will be referred to solely by their first names.
Jerhonda Pace, is one such victim, who publicly spoke out in the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.
Pace revealed her story of how she first met Kelly as a 14-year-old fan at his 2008 child pornography trial, which ended in Kelly being found not guilty due to a lack of sufficient evidence. She said she attended every day of the trial, meeting Kelly’s manager and an adult fan there.
Pace said she went to Kelly’s home for the first time when she almost 16, a year after his acquittal, when her adult fan friend invited her to one of his parties. She initially lied to Kelly about her age, saying she was 19.
“He told me he remembered me from court,” Pace said. Pace went on to say how she and Kelly exchanged phone numbers and he invited her back to his house a few days later. Once at his house, Kelly instructed her to put on her swimsuit. He then allegedly sat on a lounge chair and told her to walk back and forth while wearing said swimsuit. The two then began kissing and he performed oral sex on her.
Back at his house, Kelly told her to put on her swimsuit, she said. He then allegedly sat on a lounge chair and told her to walk back and forth while removing her swimsuit. The two then began kissing, and he performed oral sex on her, she said.
Pace then shared how she “felt uncomfortable” lying about her age and then admitted she was actually 16 and showed him her state ID as proof.
“He asked me, ‘What is that supposed to mean?’” Pace said, saying that he told her to keep saying she was 19 and “act 21.” She then performed oral sex on him, and he told her he “was going to train me on how to please him sexually.” They then had intercourse, and Kelly “took my virginity,” she said, which he liked.
Pace said she continued to see and have sex with Kelly over the next several months, with Kelly often filming their encounters.
He allegedly made strict rules, forcing Pace wear baggy clothes, call him “Daddy,” give him her phone, and forbid her from eating food or using the bathroom without his permission. She said she was also made to sign a nondisclosure agreement, as well as a letter full of false admissions claiming she’d stolen money and jewelry from him. Prosecutors have since alleged this was a form of blackmail by Kelly.
Pace stated she usually followed Kelly’s rules, but when she did not, she was harshly punished. Once when Pace said she preferred the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Chicago Bulls (the latter team being Kelly’s favorite) he backhanded her across the face and said she was being disrespectful.
While another time, Kelly said he wanted her to use a dildo on him while they had sex. Pace was cautious, saying she was “taught that was gay,” and he slapped her in the face again. “I’m not f****** gay,” she recalled him saying to her, before making her give him oral sex while using a dildo on him.
And on the last day she spent in Kelly’s house in 2010, Pace said she was texting a friend when Kelly entered the room. She didn’t hear him come in, so she did not acknowledge his presence right away. “That’s when he slapped me and choked me until I passed out,” she said.
Kelly proceeded to spit in her face and told her to “put my head down in shame,” she said, before making her perform oral sex on him and ejaculating on her face. She alleged that she then wiped Kelly’s spit and semen on the T-shirt she was wearing. That T-shirt was the same tee presented in court Wednesday as evidence.
Pace left the house for the last time when Kelly told her he would be throwing a party that night and wanted her to wear a particular set of heels. The teen lied that they were at her uncle’s house nearby, and Kelly permitted her to go retrieve them. “I left and I didn’t return,” she said.
Pace’s testimony is expected to continue Thursday, and several more alleged victims are expected to appear over the next several weeks of the trial. Pace, like many others described in the indictment, alleges that Kelly knowingly infected her with genital herpes as well.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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