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Prosecutors And Defense Offer Opening Statements in R. Kelly's Federal Trial

Lawyers on both sides began the singer's federal trial by laying out summaries of their cases for the jury, and the first witness, a woman who says Kelly sexually abused her when she was 16, testified. 

By Megan Carpentier
The R. Kelly Scandal, Explained

R. Kelly's federal trial on racketeering charges, related to his alleged sexual abuse of women and children, began in a Brooklyn courtroom on Wednesday. After opening statements from both sides, the first witness took the stand. Jerhonda Pace testified that she was 16 when the singer sexually assaulted her. 

"He took my virginity," Pace told the court. 

"This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot. This case is about a predator," Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said to the jury of seven women and five men, according to the AP.

Kelly is facing one federal racketeering charges that has 14 underlying criminal acts: three charges of sexual exploitation of a child, one charges of kidnapping, six charges of violating the Mann Act (which prohibits the transport of women and children across state lines "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose"), one charges of bribery and three charges of forced labor. 

In order to win a conviction on the racketeering charges, prosecutors must prove to the jury that Kelly committed at least two of the underlying acts beyond a reasonable doubt, explains CNN.

The prosecution's theory, which Melendez explained to the jury, is that Kelly controlled a criminal enterprise of associates dedicated to procuring "access to girls, boys and young women" in violation of the law.

Kelly's lawyer, Nicole Blank Becker, told the jury that the testimony they would hear from the prosecution's witnesses would be difficult to untangle from what she termed "lies."

"So many untruths told that even the government won't be able to entangle the mess of lies," Becker declared according to Billboard.

She added that the defense would contend that Kelly's victims sought him out due to his stardom, were aware that his lifestyle included multiple lovers, and only turned against him when he began to have legal problems.

"Don’t assume everybody’s telling the truth," she added.

She also mocked the idea that Kelly was the head of a criminal enterprise at all.

"The government wants you to believe our client, an internationally known singer, is the leader of some large enterprise — similar to John Gotti, the leader of a large mob family," she said.

Kelly still faces federal child pornography and destruction of evidence charges in Illinois, state charges of sexual assault in Illinois and two state charges of engaging in prostitution with a minor in Minnesota. If he is convicted of the federal racketeering charges in Brooklyn, he could face up to 10 years in federal prison.