R. Kelly trial focused on singer’s ‘dark side,’ prosecutors say in opening statements

CHICAGO — Opening arguments began Wednesday in the second federal trial of R. Kelly, with prosecutors saying the trial will focus on “a hidden side, a dark side” of the disgraced R&B superstar’s life.

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Kelly is accused of enticing girls for sex and fixing his 2008 child pornography trial in state court. Also charged are two of his former employees who are accused of helping to cover up evidence. Derrel McDavid is charged with conspiring to obstruct justice while Milton “June” Brown faces a child pornography conspiracy charge.

“The defendant, Robert Kelly, had sex with multiple children,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Julien said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He made videotapes of himself having sex with children. And these two defendants, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, knew about it.”

Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, acknowledged in court that jurors were likely familiar with her client and some of the allegations against him, the Chicago Tribune reported. Kelly faced high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct and assault for decades before his arrest in 2019.

“It is true that Mr. Kelly is imperfect,” Bonjean said, according to the Tribune. “It is true that on his journey from poverty to stardom that he stumbled along the way. It is important when the government wants to paint him as a monster that you remember we are talking about a human being. We implore you to keep those emotions in check.”

Julien said jurors will see three of the four videos central to the case against Kelly.

“The videos are difficult to watch,” he said, according to the Sun-Times. “But it’s important for you all to watch those videos to understand what happened.”

The fourth video will not be shown to jurors because, prosecutors allege, Kelly and his people managed to cover it up, the Tribune reported. Bonjean told jurors that the fourth video “doesn’t exist, and it never existed,” according to the Sun-Times. She asked jurors to consider whether Kelly might be a victim “of financial exploitation, extortion,” and characterized the government’s central witnesses as “liars, extortionists, people who engaged in the business of trafficking pornography.”

Prosecutors allege that Kelly filmed himself having sex with girls who were as young as 13 beginning in the late 1990s. Later, they say that McDavid and Brown paid people off to cover up evidence and to keep them from cooperating with authorities investigating the videos.

McDavid’s attorney, Vadim Golzman, said in opening statements Wednesday that his client never intended to obstruct justice but sought only to do his job, the Tribune reported. In the early 2000s, McDavid believed that the tape central to the state’s child pornography case was not legitimate, according to the newspaper.

Opening arguments followed two days of jury selection that ended late Tuesday, the Tribune reported. The trial is expected to last for about a month, according to the Sun-Times.

Last year, a federal jury in New York found Kelly, 55, guilty of heading a racketeering and sex trafficking scheme that for decades preyed on young women. In June, a judge sentenced Kelly to serve 30 years in prison related to the charges.

If he’s convicted of charges in Illinois, Kelly could face decades more in prison.