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CHICAGO — While on trial for child pornography in 2008, R. Kelly still found time to talk to fans, give autographs and to meet an underage girl he later invited to his home, according to prosecutors who depicted the R&B star as manipulative and sometimes violent.
Other accusers included a girl who met Kelly at her 16th birthday party and a hairdresser who expected to braid the singer’s hair only to find that he wanted oral sex instead, court documents said.
The accounts emerged Saturday as Kelly made his first court appearance since being accused of sexually abusing four people in a case that could produce another #MeToo reckoning for a celebrity.
A judge gave Kelly a chance to go free while awaiting trial, setting bond at US$1 million. That means the 52-year-old Grammy winner must post US$100,000 to be released or remain behind bars until he is tried on the allegations that date back as far as 1998 and span more than a decade.
The prosecution released four detailed documents — one for each accuser — outlining the basis for the charges.
The 16-year-old girl who attended Kelly’s trial got his autograph after a court session. He later invited her to his home in the Chicago suburb of Olympia Fields, where they had sex multiple times, according to the documents, which said he also slapped, choked and spit on her.
In 1998, another girl reported meeting Kelly at a restaurant where she was having a 16th birthday party. Kelly’s manager gave her the singer’s business card and suggested she call Kelly. The girl’s mother heard the exchange, took the card and told the manager her daughter was 16.
But her daughter later retrieved the card from her purse. She contacted Kelly, who gave her instructions and money that she assumed was for the taxi fare to his studio, where they had sex periodically for a year, the documents said.
In early 2003, a Chicago hairdresser told prosecutors that she thought she was going to braid Kelly’s hair, but he pulled down his pants and instead tried to force her to give him oral sex. The woman, who was 24, was able to pull away, but Kelly ejaculated on her and spit in her face, the documents said.
Prosecutors also described a witness who had access to videotapes showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. The witness turned a tape over to authorities and identified the girl, who repeatedly stated her age on the footage, according to the documents.
Kelly’s DNA was found in semen on one of the accuser’s shirts, and semen found on a shirt worn by another was submitted for DNA testing, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said. It was not clear when the accusers turned the shirts over to authorities, whether it was shortly after the abuse or more recently.
At the bond hearing, Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, said his client is not a flight risk. He told the judge, “Contrary to the song, Mr. Kelly doesn’t like to fly.” One of Kelly’s best-known hits is “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Greenberg said Kelly “really doesn’t have any more money,” suggesting that others had mismanaged his wealth. Still, he said he expected that Kelly would be able to come up with enough money for bail.
The judge called the allegations “disturbing.” The singer-songwriter looked down at the floor as the judge spoke.
After the hearing, Greenberg told reporters that Kelly did not force anyone to have sex.
“He’s a rock star. He doesn’t have to have nonconsensual sex,” Greenberg said.
The judge ordered Kelly to surrender his passport, ending his hopes of doing a tour of Europe in April. Kelly defiantly scheduled concerts in Germany and the Netherlands despite the cloud of legal issues looming over him. Greenberg denied that any tour was planned.
The recording artist, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, has been trailed for decades by allegations that he violated underage girls and women and held some as virtual slaves. He was charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse.
Kelly, who was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, has consistently denied any sexual misconduct. He broke into the R&B scene in 1993 with his first solo album, “12 Play,” which produced such popular sex-themed songs as “Bump N’ Grind” and “Your Body’s Callin’.”
He rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side and has retained a sizable following. Kelly has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. His collaborators have included Jay-Z and Usher.
The jury in 2008 acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges that centred on a graphic video that prosecutors said showed him having sex with a girl as young as 13. He and the young woman allegedly seen with him denied they were in the 27-minute video, even though the picture quality was good and witnesses testified it was them, and she did not take the stand. Kelly could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Charging Kelly now for actions that occurred in the same time frame as the allegations from the 2008 trial suggests the accusers are co-operating this time and willing to testify.
Because the alleged victim 10 years ago denied that she was on the video and did not testify, the state’s attorney’s office had little recourse except to charge the lesser offence under Illinois law, child pornography, which required a lower standard of evidence.
Each count of the new charges carries up to seven years in prison, and the sentences could be served consecutively, making it possible for him to receive up to 70 years. Probation is also an option.
The walls began closing in on Kelly after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and the multipart Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which aired last month. Together they detailed allegations that he held women against their will and ran a “sex cult.”
#MeToo activists and a social media movement using the hashtag #MuteRKelly calling on streaming services to drop Kelly’s music and promoters not to book any more concerts. Protesters demonstrated outside Kelly’s Chicago studio.
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