He has been nicknamed Teflon Kelly because of his cunning ability to evade the law for so long, but this week R Kelly (52) – real name Robert Kelly – finds himself back in a New York court for his sex abuse trial.
The disgraced R&B star will face opening statements in his long-anticipated federal trial arising from years of allegations that he sexually abused women and girls while pursuing fame and fortune.
He is accused of racketeering, sexual abuse and bribery - charges, some of which date back more than 20 years, he's repeatedly denied. If convicted he could be sentenced to several decades in prison.
Over the years Kelly's name has become synonymous with allegations of paedophilia, sex rings and acts of depravity so sordid even his children want nothing to do with him.
The trial's first witness, Jerhonda Johnson Pace, told the jury the singer knew she was underage in 2009 when they had intercourse in Chicago, where the age of consent is 17.
Now 28, she testified she had initially told him she was 19, but then revealed her real age on the day they had sex for the first time.
More than a decade has passed since he was acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case in Chicago. It was a reprieve that allowed his music career to continue until the #MeToo era caught up with him in 2019 and encouraged his former victims to speak out.
The result was a court appearance on charges of racketeering and a new documentary called Surviving R Kelly, which explored how an entourage of supporters protected Kelly and silenced his victims for decades.
This week prosecutors in Brooklyn have lined up multiple female accusers — mostly referred to in court as “Jane Does” — and cooperating former associates who have never spoken publicly before about their experiences with the singer.
They will give testimony on how Kelly's managers, bodyguards and other employees helped him recruit women and girls, and sometimes boys, for his sexual gratification. Victims were often chosen at concerts and then taken to Kelly at one of his many homes.
The doccie, Surviving R Kelly, has been critical in building a case against the star. The six-part series by filmmaker dream hampton (who styles herself this way in honour of feminist author bell hooks), includes more than 50 interviews with journalists, musicians and former members of the award- winning R&B star’s infamous inner circle.
Yet the most harrowing tales come from the victims themselves – women who were lured into his den of degradation as teenagers with promises of record deals and stardom, only to find themselves slaves of Kelly’s sex cult.
“I felt special,” says Lisa Van Allen, one of the women who lived in his Chicago studio in 1998. “I actually thought I was his girlfriend.”
Just 17 then, she didn’t take long to realise she was at his constant beck and call. She recalls how Kelly would berate her if she spoke to anyone else. “You’re not supposed to speak to them,” he’d tell her. “Just look straight forward.”
Lisa describes how Kelly – who wanted her to call him “daddy” – would coax her into threesomes with other teenagers and film their sex acts.
Lizzette Martinez, another of Kelly’s “girls”, has a similar story. She describes how the Switch Up singer took her virginity at a party when she was 17 after getting her drunk. “I was really, like, hazy, and I remember he took me up to the room. It was just a blur.”
He later got Lizzette pregnant and wanted her to have an abortion. She eventually lost the baby while holed up in one of the hotel rooms Kelly had confined her to.
Despite a Buzzfeed expose´ about Kelly’s sex cult in 2017, the star has reportedly been luring women in as recently as 2018.
A’lceis Clary, whose sister Azriel was one of Kelly’s girls, saw the living conditions in his Chicago studio.
“She said there were girls and stuff in other rooms, but they couldn’t talk,” her father, Angelo, says in the documentary.
“She noticed buckets in the corner of every room and she said it looked like they were using the buckets to use the bathroom in,” A’lceis and Azriel’s mother, Alice, adds.
Among those interviewed are Jonjelyn and Tim Savage, whose daughter Joycelyn (23) has been living with Kelly since she was 19.
She hasn’t spoken to her parents in years. “R Kelly, if you’re watching this,” Tim pleads, “I just want to hear my daughter’s voice.”
In 2002 Kelly was close to facing the music. A tape featuring him urinating on a 14-year-old girl was leaked to a Chicago newspaper and he was charged with child pornography.
He was later acquitted of all charges after his high-powered legal team convinced the jury the identity of the girl in the video was inconclusive.
A weeping Kelly cried, “Thank you, Jesus,” over and over again.
But Lisa Van Allen says there’s no doubt in her mind who the girl was – because she was there.
She discovered the tape and when she watched it realised she featured in it too. “I saw other scenes of him and her, without me,” she says. “Her face, her chest, wherever it was going it was as if she was a toilet, he was just peeing [on her]. I thought it was gross and weird and belittling.”
She stole the tape and asked another of Kelly’s inner circle to keep it safe. When the footage leaked, Lisa admitted to Kelly she’d taken the tape but said she hadn’t given it to the media.
During his highly publicised trial, Kelly was married to Andrea “Drea” Kelly (44), a professional dancer and choreographer. They were married from 1996 to 2009.
Kelly tried to keep the fact police were after him from her, she said, and on the eve of his arrest she was “shipped off ” to Florida in the middle of the night. She was pregnant with their third child at the time.
“I was in so much stress it put my unborn child’s life in jeopardy,” she recalled, saying doctors had to induce labour after they couldn’t find a heartbeat.
Drea gave birth to a boy, Robert Jnr – and Robert Snr was taken into custody not long after.
The moment Surviving R Kelly screened in the USA, hordes of viewers united to seek justice for those who say they’re Kelly’s victims.
Protesters gathered outside the Grammy winner’s Chicago studio as well as in Georgia, where Kelly has another home. At the local district attorney’s offices phone lines were ringing off the hook with people clamouring for something to be done.
The hashtags #SurvivingRKelly and #MuteRKelly blew up on Twitter, with plenty of celebs – including John Legend, Terry Crews and Jada Pinkett Smith – taking a stand against him.
Lady Gaga tweeted an apology for working with him, and her collaboration with Kelly, Do What U Want, was removed from streaming services.
The Fulton district attorney’s office in Georgia has opened an investigation, while in Chicago, Cook County state attorney Kimberly Foxx urged potential victims or witnesses to come forward.
“We can’t seek justice without you,” she said at a news conference.
Getting authorities to sit up and take notice wasn’t what she was after when she decided to make the documentary series, dream hampton says. “I don’t have hope in the criminal justice system. I’d love a social death for R Kelly.”
Of Kelly’s three kids, only his daughter, 20-year-old Joann, who’s also a singer and performs under the name Buku Abi, has spoken out. “The same monster you’re all confronting me about is my father,” Joann said on Instagram.
“I’m well aware of who and what he is. I grew up in that house. My choice to not speak about him and what he does is for peace of mind. I had to do and move in a manner that’s best for me.”
Like her brothers, Jay (19) and Robert (17), Joann is estranged from her dad.
A source told TMZ at the time the singer sees it as a vendetta against him.
“He’s going to sue everybody who had anything to do with this.”
SOURCES: NBCCHICAGO.COM, BBC.COM, BILLBOARD, THE GUARDIAN, CNN, TOOFAB, WSBTV.COM, THE CHICAGO SUN TIMES, BUZZFEED, ABC NEWS