R. Kelly‘s sex trafficking trial officially got underway in Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday.
The 54-year-old singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, faces state and federal charges for sex trafficking, racketeering, coercion and other charges related to the alleged abuse and exploitation of six women — three of whom were underage at the time — over the course of 25 years.
In her opening statement, assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez accused Kelly of being a serial manipulator who used the access granted by his fame to prey on his fans, according to The New York Times, adding that he and his inner circle “used every trick in the predator handbook to present himself as a mentor to girls and their families.”
Once the women entered into relationships with Kelly, Cruz Melendez continued, they were forced to “receive his permission to use the bathroom, having sex with whomever he wanted, whenever he decided” and demanding what Melendez called “absolute obedience.”
“He began collecting girls and women as if they were things,” she continued, “hoarding them like objects that he could use however he liked.”
Kelly’s defense team, led by lawyer Nicole Blank Becker, countered that his accusers had willingly traveled to see Kelly and “knew what they were getting into.” She further alleged that some became spiteful after their relationships became tense and sought “revenge.”
While testifying, one of Kelly’s accusers, Jerhonda Pace, claimed Kelly abused her sexually and physically when she was just 16 years old, forcing her to abide by “rigid restrictions.” When she failed to do so, Pace claimed Kelly “slapped me and choked me until I passed out” and “spit in my face and told me to put my head down in shame.”
If convicted, Kelly could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison.
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