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R. Kelly Is Going To Trial For Alleged Sex Crimes. Here's What To Know

Singer and songwriter R. Kelly at a court hearing in Chicago in September 2019.
Getty Images
Singer and songwriter R. Kelly at a court hearing in Chicago in September 2019.

Editor's note: This report includes allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

In July 2019, federal prosecutors in both New York and Illinois unsealed indictments against R&B singer and songwriter R. Kelly on a host of charges. They include accusations that the R&B singer and songwriter abused girls and women over some two decades, that he had made child pornography, and that Kelly and some of his circle made hush-money payments to silence the alleged victims. The prosecutors have also charged Kelly with racketeering — building a criminal enterprise, they say, whose purpose was to "prey upon young women and teenagers."

After lengthy delays due to the pandemic, superseding charges issued by both sets of prosecutors and rounds of shuffling on his defense team, Kelly is at last scheduled to stand trial in the Eastern District of New York courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. beginning Aug. 9 — more than two years after his initial indictments. (The Illinois trial will begin after the New York trial has concluded.) Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In the meantime, there have been quite a few — and often confusing — developments in the R. Kelly story. Here's a quick catch-up on the most important elements.

December 2019: A new charge alleges Kelly and others bribed an Illinois official to make a fake ID for Aaliyah

On top of the 18 existing charges in the federal indictments unsealed in July, prosecutors in New York now say that on Aug. 30, 1994, Kelly and his associates bribed a public officer in Illinois in 1994 to make a fake ID for Aaliyah, a singer and Kelly's teenaged protégé. (Court documents refer to Aaliyah as "Jane Doe #1," but her identity is clear.)

The next day, Aaliyah — who was 15 years old at the time, compared to Kelly's 27 — wedded him in a short-lived marriage.

Public allegations of Kelly and Aaliyah's marriage are not new. In Dec. 1994, Vibe printed a copy of the marriage certificate, which listed Aaliyah's age as 18, in a piece that included rumors that Aaliyah was pregnant. Then in 2000, journalists Jim DeRogatis and Abdon Pallasch, then of the Chicago Sun-Times, reported on the marriage in a larger, bombshell investigative story, having found court documents that showed Aaliyah admitted lying about her age.

However, the criminal charge that Kelly, "together with others," bribed a public official is new.

February 2020: Federal prosecutors in Illinois file new charges against Kelly and two other men

These superseding charges include sexually abusing and/or making child pornography with five girls, who all were between the ages of 12 and 16 when they first met Kelly.

This indictment also includes accusations that Kelly, his business manager Derrel McDavid and another associate, Milton "June" Brown, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to find and hide videotapes of sexual encounters Kelly had allegedly made with girls and young women. Kelly and McDavid are further accused of intimidating and paying off victims and witnesses involved in a child pornography trial in Chicago against Kelly, in which he was acquitted in 2008.

Kelly now faces 13 federal charges in Illinois.

March 2020: Federal prosecutors in New York file new charges against Kelly

These superseding charges in New York include racketeering and violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits sexual trafficking across state lines.

The New York charges now name six alleged victims, including three girls. According to prosecutors, Kelly also allegedly gave one of the minor girls herpes without disclosing that he had the disease.

In all, Kelly now faces 22 federal criminal charges that involve allegedly abusing 11 girls and women over the course of more than two decades, between 1994 and 2018.

August 2020: Three Kelly associates are charged with trying to bribe and intimidate his accusers

Richard Arline Jr., a self-described "friend" of Kelly, former publicist Michael Williams, and Donnell Russell, a self-described "manager, advisor and friend" of Kelly, are charged by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York. According to the prosecutors, Arline tried to bribe one of Kelly's accusers with a proposed payment of $500,000 in order to keep her from cooperating with the government and testifying against Kelly at trial.

Russell, prosecutors say, tried to harass and intimidate another Kelly accuser and her mother between November 2018 and February 2020, after the woman filed a civil lawsuit against the singer. Russell is said to have threatened to release sexually explicit photos of the woman and to reveal elements of her sexual history if she did not withdraw the suit.

Russell allegedly also sent versions of those photos to producers and executives at Lifetime and A&E on Dec. 4, 2018 — the day Lifetime planned to hold an advance screening of part of its Surviving R. Kelly docuseries.

Williams was charged with setting fire to an SUV parked outside of a Florida residence where one of Kelly's accusers was staying, and which was leased to the woman's father. According to prosecutors, investigators also found an accelerant around the residence. Additionally, prosecutors say, Williams searched the Internet for information about the flammability of fertilizer and diesel fuel, materials about witness intimidation and tampering and information about countries that do not have extradition treaties with the U.S.

Williams pleaded guilty to arson in April 2021, and awaits sentencing this October. Arline's and Russell's cases are ongoing.

August 2020: Donnell Russell charged with gun threat to 'Surviving R. Kelly' screening

Russell is hit with another indictment, this time by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, who accuse him of being the person who called in agun threat to that same advance screening of Surviving R. Kelly.

Scheduled to attend that screening were four women who have publicly accused R. Kelly of sexual assault and misconduct — Kitti Jones, Jerhonda Pace, Lisa Van Allen and Asante McGee — as well as #MeToo founder and activist Tarana Burke. The screening was canceled, and the theater was evacuated.

According to prosecutors, Russell also sent the screening venue a purported "cease and desist" letter, and called both the New York Police Department and the New York City Fire Department in attempts to disrupt the screening. He allegedly finally contacted the venue by phone and told an employee that there was a person in the room with a gun who was prepared to start shooting.

Russell's case in the Southern District is ongoing.

July 2021: New York prosecutors ask for more evidence to be admitted

Federal prosecutors in the New York trial say they have evidence of more alleged crimes committed by Kelly, for which he has not been charged—and they want the jury to see this evidence.

The allegations in this filing include sexual and physical abuse of teenage girls and women dating as far back as 1991, sexual abuse of a 17-year-old boy, hush payments and bribery. The prosecutors' filing includes various allegations of sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, bribery and threats against 20 Jane Does and the teenaged John Doe.

Jury selection in Kelly's New York trial is slated to begin on Aug. 9, and testimony is scheduled to commence Aug. 18. Judge Ann M. Donnelly has ordered that the jurors will be anonymous and partially sequestered, due to overwhelming media attention and because prosecutors have accused Kelly of trying to silence alleged victims and witnesses through bribes, blackmail, threats and intimidation.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.