R. Kelly sex trafficking trial resumes with explosive accuser testimony

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Jerhonda Pace resumed her testimony in R. Kelly’s sex-trafficking trial, alleging that she was subject to strict rules from the R&B singer for sexual encounters he would often videotape when she was a minor.

Pace resumed her testimony in Brooklyn federal court a day after telling jurors she was a 16-year-old virgin and a member of Kelly’s fan club when he invited her to his mansion in 2010. While there, she said, she was told to follow “Rob’s rules” — restricting how she could dress, who she could speak with and when she could use the bathroom.

She said Kelly — born Robert Sylvester Kelly — sometimes demanded she wear pigtails and “dress like a Girl Scout” during sexual encounters that Kelly often videotaped.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Deveraux Cannick sought to show that Pace mixed up dates about when she interacted with Kelly and that she deceived him by at first lying about herself.

“You were in fact stalking him, right?” Cannick asked.

“That is not right,” she responded.

His questioning fit a theme that defense lawyers have repeatedly pushed early in the trial: Kelly was victimized by groupies who hounded him at shows and afterward, only to turn against him years later when public sentiment shifted against him, they allege.

In this courtroom artist’s sketch made from a video screen monitor of a Brooklyn courtroom, defendant R. Kelly, left, listens during the opening day of his trial, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021 in New York. The prosecutor described sex abuse claims against Kelly, saying the long-anticipated trial now underway was "about a predator" who used his fame to entice girls, boys and young women before dominating and controlling them physically, sexually and psychologically. 
(AP)

To bolster their claims against Kelly, prosecutors showed jurors screenshots from Pace’s phone showing several communications with Kelly in January 2010, including a text from him reading, “Please call.” There was also a photo of her with “Rob” tattooed to her chest. She said she’s since “covered it up with a black heart.”

Pace, the trial’s first witness, was among multiple female accusers — mostly referred to in court as “Jane Does” — expected to testify at a trial scheduled to last several weeks. Other likely witnesses include cooperating former associates who have never spoken publicly before about their experiences with Kelly.

Kelly, 54, has denied accusations that he preyed on Pace and other victims during a 30-year career highlighted by his smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” a 1996 song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations, weddings, advertisements and elsewhere.

The openings and testimony came more than a decade after Kelly was acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case in Chicago. The reprieve allowed his music career to continue until the #MeToo era caught up with him, emboldening alleged victims to come forward.

In this June 6, 2019, file photo, singer R. Kelly pleaded not guilty to 11 additional sex-related felonies during a court hearing before Judge Lawrence Flood at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. R&B singer R. Kelly is due in federal court to enter a plea to an updated federal indictment that includes sex abuse allegations involving a new accuser.  The 53-year-old is expected to plead not guilty at a hearing Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Chicago to a superseding indictment unsealed last month that includes multiple counts of child pornography. 
(E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)

The women’s stories got wide exposure with the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” The series explored how an entourage of supporters protected Kelly and silenced his victims for decades, foreshadowing the federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed Kelly in jail in 2019.

The trial is occurring before an anonymous jury of seven men and five women. Following several delays due mostly to the pandemic, the trial unfolds under coronavirus precautions restricting the press and the public to overflow courtrooms with video feeds.

The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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