Testimony has begun in R. Kelly’s federal trial.
In her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Melendez labeled the disgraced R&B singer a "predator," telling the jury that he was "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," NPR reports.
Nicole Blank Becker, Kelly’s defense lawyer, attempted to make the accusers out to be liars who were in long-term consensual relationships with Kelly.
"They're going to tell you Mr. Kelly is this monster. You're also going to hear that some of these relationships were beautiful," said Becker, according to NPR.
Kelly is being accused of various crimes, including sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping, forced labor and sexual trafficking across state lines. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Among the accusers present was Jerhonda Johnson Pace, who testified that she had a sexual relationship with Kelly, even after she revealed to him that she was underage.
R. Kelly has been held in custody since July 2019, where he awaited the start of his New York trial. A second federal trial in Illinois on separtate sexual abuse charges and obstruction will follow.
The New York trial, whose jury is made up of seven men and five women, is expected to last a month and involves six alleged victims.
NPR reports, federal prosecutors are structuring their case similar to that of an organized crime case. They’re alleging that the singer ran a criminal enterprise whose explicit purpose was "to prey upon young women and teenagers," and that he was aided by managers and others in his entourage who also trafficking the girls and women across state lines.