R. Kelly sex trafficking trial: What to know and expect

As the New York federal trial unfolds over the next month or so, expect to hear from multiple accusers who say the R&B superstar R. Kelly physically, sexually, and psychologically dominated them. Here's what to know about the criminal trial in New York, which began Wednesday:

What is R. Kelly known for?

You've probably heard "I Believe I Can Fly" at an inspirational moment or "Ignition (Remix)" at a college party. That's R. Kelly. The 54-year-old is an R&B superstar whose heyday was in the '90s and early 2000s when he racked up a slew of awards, including multiple Grammys.

Where is R. Kelly charged?

New York, Illinois, and Minnesota, all sex-related cases. The trial now underway is in a federal court in Downtown Brooklyn. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

What is this specific trial about?

This is a racketeering case. Prosecutors say R. Kelly physically, sexually, and psychologically dominated children — girls and boys — and women, often recording sex acts with minors, and using a cadre of loyalists to do his bidding and recruit victims. Kelly's lawyers have pushed back, calling the accusers groupies who "were dying to be with him."

Can I watch the R. Kelly trial live?

No. No cameras are allowed in federal court.

Could R. Kelly serve prison time if convicted?

The top count of racketeering carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He also faces charges under the Mann Act.

What is the Mann Act?

The Mann Act is a 1910 law that forbids transporting "any woman or girl" over state lines for "immoral" acts. 

Is R. Kelly in jail right now?

When he isn't in court, he's at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal lockup in Brooklyn. That's the same jail currently holding Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite awaiting trial on charges that she procured young victims for the sex-abusing millionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

How long has R. Kelly been in jail?

He's been held since July 2019, when federal indictments were announced in Chicago and New York. But he's only been in New York since June. His lawyer says he's gained a lot of weight and run out of money while in jail.

A prosecutor said R&B singer R. Kelly would often record sex acts with minors as he controlled a racketeering enterprise of individuals.

A prosecutor said R&B singer R. Kelly would often record sex acts with minors as he controlled a racketeering enterprise of individuals. (Jane Rosenberg)

Was R. Kelly attacked in jail?

Yeah, almost exactly a year ago, in Chicago. A convicted member of the Latin Kings gang says he beat Kelly up — repeatedly hitting him on the head — because he wanted attention on his own case. Kelly's lawyers tried to use the attack as justification for releasing him on bail, to no avail. 

Who is on the jury?

Seven men, five women. We don't know who the jurors are — the judge ordered their names and other details that could identify them withheld.

How long is the trial expected to last?

About a month or so.

Is there anything unusual about the trial?

Well, media and the public are barred from the courtroom and have to watch a video feed of the witnesses from an overflow room, where no phones or computers are allowed. The judge cited coronavirus concerns in decreeing the viewing accommodations, but other recent trials in New York have permitted access to the courtroom.

This isn't the first time R. Kelly's been in legal hot water, right?

He was acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case in Chicago. He's also been embroiled in many lawsuits.