R. Kelly Trial Begins: ‘This Case Is About a Predator’
But Mr. Kelly’s trial also stands apart. In Mr. Weinstein’s case, which touched off a national reckoning around sexual abuse, many of the women who came forward were actresses and models, and were mostly white — as were many of those at the center of accusations in the most prominent cases across business, politics, media and entertainment.
The majority of Mr. Kelly’s accusers are Black women.
“I do think it matters a lot — that this is the first high-profile #MeToo-era trial where the accusers, for the most part, aren’t white women,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor of law at Northwestern University and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan.
“If you take these kinds of accusers who have traditionally been most dismissed, most disregarded, most cast aside — and those women are able to be believed and have jurors care enough to convict, that matters,” Ms. Tuerkheimer said. “And that would send a powerful message.”
During the trial, jurors will hear testimony from witnesses and evidence that accuses Mr. Kelly of kidnapping, forced labor, failing to disclose his sexually transmitted disease to his sexual partners and producing child pornography.
But the jury of seven men and five women that filed into the courtroom just after 10 a.m. on Wednesday will be tasked with processing a much broader question that is central to the case: whether an informal criminal organization existed around and contributed to the crimes Mr. Kelly is accused of.
Minutes before the jury entered the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who is presiding over the case, ruled on a slew of motions, allowing prosecutors to offer evidence of sexual abuse dating back to 1991. Those allegations regard Mr. Kelly’s brief marriage to the singer Aaliyah.
During her opening statement, Ms. Cruz Melendez portrayed the 1994 marriage as a last-resort effort by Mr. Kelly to avoid legal prosecution. (The singer, whose real name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, died in a plane crash in 2001.)