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R. Kelly's Trial For Charges Including Sex Trafficking Has Begun

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The federal trial for disgraced singer-songwriter R. Kelly got underway in a Brooklyn courtroom today. I'll take a moment to say this case is going to include mentions of sexual and physical abuse. Kelly is being tried on charges including sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping and racketeering. He has pleaded not guilty. A lot of these allegations have been highly publicized for years now. That did not stop some fans from showing up today to support him. NPR reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas was among the reporters there in the courtroom today.

Anastasia, hi there.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi.

TSIOULCAS: Nice to see you, Mary Louise. Nice to see you.

KELLY: Hi. Nice to speak with you. It sounds like you're right there in the courtroom or somewhere...

TSIOULCAS: I am right here in the courtroom and about to be kicked out.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: OK. Well, hopefully, they'll give us three minutes, but if you need to pick up and walk, holler. I do want to recap these very serious charges. Just walk us through exactly what R. Kelly was facing when he came to the courtroom there in Brooklyn.

TSIOULCAS: Sure. This is actually the first of two federal trials which R. Kelly is facing, one in New York and one in Illinois. Here in Brooklyn, he's being accused of running a criminal enterprise not unlike the mob. And the purpose of this enterprise, according to prosecutors, was to lure girls and young women into sexual relationships. And there are six alleged victims in the New York charges, including the singer Aaliyah, who was Kelly's protege. He married her in 1994 when he was 27 and she was just 15.

KELLY: Wow. We heard a little bit of a taste of the scene there in the courtroom. What was it like today?

TSIOULCAS: Well, of course, there is intense media interest in this trial, which means journalists were lining up before dawn to make sure they got a seat. We're all in overflow rooms, watching video and audio feeds from the actual courtroom. And as you mentioned earlier, there are dedicated superfans here. Interestingly, they declined to talk to me directly and to other journalists here, but they're definitely here.

KELLY: And what about the actual legal proceedings in the courtroom? Who spoke? What did they say?

TSIOULCAS: The day began with opening arguments from both federal prosecutors and from the defense. Essentially, the government laid out its case against Kelly, saying that he's, quote, "a man who used his fame, popularity and the individuals at his disposal to target and groom girls, boys and young women for his sexual gratification." The defense is disputing that, of course. Defense attorney Nicole Blank Becker characterized the victims and witnesses as, quote, "liars." She also said, quote, "they're going to tell you Mr. Kelly is this monster. You're also going to hear that some of these relationships were beautiful."

KELLY: And have we heard yet directly from any of the accusers?

TSIOULCAS: Yes, we've started to hear testimony from Jerhonda Pace, who originally met Kelly in 2008. She was a superfan who skipped school regularly to attend a trial of his in Chicago from which he was acquitted. He was being tried on charges of making child pornography. And at that time, Jerhonda Pace was 14 years old.

KELLY: That is Anastasia Tsioulcas reporting from Brooklyn, from the courtroom where R. Kelly is standing trial.

Anastasia, thank you.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.