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The Prosecution Continues To Lay Out Its Case Against Singer R. Kelly


The federal trial in New York against R&B star R. Kelly is heading into its fourth week. There's been a long line of alleged victims, former employees and others who've already testified against him. Joining us now, NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas, who's been watching the trial, covering it for us. Thanks for being here, Anastasia.


MARTIN: Before we get started, we should just note for listeners R. Kelly is accused of some very serious crimes, including sexual and physical abuse and the abuse of children. Remind us about the charges against him.

TSIOULCAS: So he's being accused of running a criminal enterprise, not unlike the mob. But in this case, according to prosecutors, the purpose of the enterprise was to lure girls and young women into sexual relationships. There are six alleged victims named in this indictment. And additionally, prosecutors have brought in other alleged Kelly victims, including women and one man, to testify as well. And Kelly's pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

MARTIN: What's the reaction been like in the courtroom thus far? What's been the effect of the testimony?

TSIOULCAS: So during this trial, the media and the public are being kept in separate overflow courtrooms, so we can't actually see the jurors' reactions to what witnesses are saying. But a number of the witnesses have given very graphic testimony detailing episodes of serious physical and sexual violence, including instances that allegedly took place when some of these people were still minors. And it's been very difficult to listen to, to be honest.

Several alleged victims and other witnesses have outlined so-called rules they say Kelly forced the women to follow and the punishments he allegedly exacted on them for breaking those rules. One woman said on the stand, Rachel, he made her have sex with another man as one of those punishments and also forced her to have an abortion. And another described being raped.

MARTIN: What has R. Kelly's defense been like?

TSIOULCAS: It's been pretty rocky so far. Kelly has a team of four lawyers, two of whom have never argued a federal trial before. Just during the defense's opening statement, for example, the judge interrupted defense lawyer Nicole Blank Becker to ask for a sidebar or sustained objections against her more than half a dozen times. And my media colleagues who report on the courts full time tell me this is very unusual, especially in such a high-profile case.

MARTIN: Does it seem to you like the defense has been able to cast doubts on the witnesses' testimony?

TSIOULCAS: They have pointed out inconsistencies between what one witness said on the stand during the trial and earlier statements she'd made. Another woman brought forward by the prosecution clearly did not want to be there testifying. And what she said on the stand didn't fit certain patterns that other female witnesses laid out. And I think that served the defense pretty well. The defense has also tried to cast the alleged victims as willing groupies.

MARTIN: And how long is it supposed to go, the trial?

TSIOULCAS: Originally, when testimony began in August, the judge told jurors it would be about a month. But we're nowhere near that. The prosecution is still laying out its case. We don't know what the defense team is going to put forward or if Kelly's going to take the stand himself. So I don't see this wrapping up in the next few days.

MARTIN: And if found guilty, he faces a prison sentence of 10 years to life, right?

TSIOULCAS: Yes. And there's another federal trial to come in Illinois after this, so it's going to be a long road ahead.

MARTIN: NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas, thank you.

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

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.