After a few delays due to various legalities and the ongoing pandemic, the long-awaited trial for Robert “R.” Kelly has finally begun.
According to the Chicago Tribune, opening statements were presented from both the prosecutors and defense—the latter of which went on for over two hours. In addition to those arguments, the first witness testimony was also brought forth by Jerhonda Johnson Pace, who described in detail the sexual relationship she had with Kelly when she was just 16 years old. A once devoted fan, Pace explained that she told Kelly she was 19 at the time but because she felt uncomfortable after their first sexual encounter in the “game room” of his Olympia Fields mansion, she subsequently showed him her ID card to prove her real age.
“He asked me, ‘what is that supposed to mean?’” Pace, who is now 28, recalled. “He told me to continue telling people I was 19, and act like I was 21.” Kelly would then go on to allegedly “train” Pace on how to please him sexually and later demand that she abide by strict house rules which included no phones, no meeting up with a friend who also resided in the mansion at the time, the wearing of baggy clothes, and being instructed to look at him and greet him with a kiss whenever he entered the room or face physical or sexual abuse. Pace also alleged that Kelly took her virginity and ultimately gave her herpes.
More from Pace’s testimony and prosecutors opening arguments, per the Chicago Tribune:
Prosecutors allege it was part of a decadeslong operation that leveraged Kelly’s outsize fame to target young victims, groom them, abuse them, and manipulate or blackmail them to keep them under his control. He faces a racketeering charge more commonly used against mob bosses, drug cartels and the like.
“He began collecting girls and women like they were things, hoarding them like objects,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said in opening statements Wednesday. Pace’s testimony, as well as opening statements by both sides earlier in the day, placed many of the events alleged in the indictment squarely in Chicago, where Kelly got his start busking at “L” stations three decades ago.
In outlining their evidence for the jury Wednesday morning, prosecutors described the hotel in suburban Rosemont where Kelly married underage Aaliyah in the 1990s, the old Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s in River North where he allegedly tried to pick up a teenager, and the studio on Chicago’s West Side that was the site of many of his alleged abuses.
Pace’s story is, by now, familiar, having been recounted in myriad media outlets since she went public with her allegations in 2017. And it combines many of the hallmarks of Kelly’s alleged criminal enterprise: sex with a minor, some of it videotaped; the strict “rules” he made his partners follow; isolation from friends and family; physical abuse; and finally, a hefty settlement payout in exchange for the accuser’s silence.
When it was time for the defense to present their statements, attorney Nicole Blank Becker tried to characterize Pace and the forthcoming witnesses as women who just “want to make a name for themselves by accusing Kelly.”
“All of their stories, all of their explanations, they’re all going to sound kind of similar,” Becker said in part. “Using those buzzwords like, ‘I couldn’t eat, it was a cult,’ they’re amazing in the media. That is audience-grabbing.”
She later added, of Pace, “I can’t even count as high as the number of untruths, stories you’re going to hear from [Pace] on that stand. The proverbial word ‘groupie’ is an understatement, you’ll see, when it comes to [her]. She’s going to claim she had this magnificent relationship with Mr. Kelly—until it was time to write a book. There will be so many untruths told to you that even the government will not be able to untangle the web of lies. [Witnesses will] tell you all these negative things, they’re going to form a picture that basically Mr. Kelly is this monster [but] some of these relationships that Mr. Kelly had were beautiful.”
Per Variety, the trial is expected to go on for several weeks and if convicted, Kelly could face a maximum sentence of 10 years to life in prison, according to prosecutors. In addition to the crimes he faces in New York, Kelly also faces multiple charges in Chicago and Minnesota.