CHICAGO (Reuters) - Six years after he was charged with videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl, R&B superstar R. Kelly went on trial on Friday, with his alleged victim prepared to deny she is the person on the tape.
Kelly has been charged with 14 counts of videotaping, producing or soliciting child pornography. Prosecutors argue he knew, or should have known, the girl was a teenaged minor.
If convicted of all charges, the 41-year-old performer, whose given name is Robert Kelly, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
As Kelly arrived at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, fans cheered and critics waved signs and called the prolific songwriter, singer and producer a pedophile.
Judge Vincent Gaughan rejected a request from Kelly’s lawyers to delay the trial because of recent publicity. The proceeding, already postponed numerous times, is expected to last up to seven weeks, with jury selection continuing Monday.
Prosecutors say the lurid 26-minute tape was made between January 1998 and November 2000 when the girl was 13 or 14.
The alleged victim, who is now in her 20s, has denied she is the girl on the tape and could testify in Kelly’s defense, according to court records. Kelly’s lawyers have argued it is not him on the tape either.
In a 2003 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Kelly said he was no pedophile, saying: “I’ve always loved women. ... But I don’t have a bag with little suckers in it, hiding behind some tree talking about, ‘Come here, little girl.’ Not me.”
The story came to light in early 2002 when the Chicago Sun-Times turned over to police a copy of the widely bootlegged videotape.
The Chicago Sun-Times and the Tribune both reported last week another woman would testify that she and the girl had engaged in sex together with Kelly, and will identify her as the person on the tape, which will likely be played in court.
The accusations prompted some radio stations to stop playing Kelly’s songs, but it didn’t derail his career. He has earned millions from concert tours and album sales while being free on $750,000 bond.
After singing for change on Chicago subway platforms, Kelly shot to fame in the early 1990s with rhythm and blues hits like “Sex Me” and “Bump n’ Grind.”
The carnality of his early lyrics gave way to wholesomeness with the 1996 single “I Believe I Can Fly,” which earned Kelly three Grammy Awards. He has received 20 other Grammy nominations.
The Chicago-born singer produced “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” for young protege Aaliyah in 1994. The pair married, but Aaliyah, then 15, and her parents had the marriage annulled. She died in a plane crash in 2001.
He later married a dancer and has three children.