23 Feb 2019

Singer R Kelly charged with sex offences in Chicago

1:51 pm on 23 February 2019

Singer R Kelly has been charged today with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, some involving underage victims, US media report.

FILE - In this June 30, 2013 file photo, R. Kelly performs at the BET Awards in Los Angeles.

Singer R Kelly Photo: AP

The R&B star has been trailed for decades by allegations that he violated underage girls and women and held some as virtual slaves, was charged with aggravated sexual abuse involving four victims, including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17.

In a brief appearance before reporters, Cook County State's Attorney's Kim Foxx announced the 10 counts against the 52-year-old Grammy winner. She said the abuse dated back as far as 1998 and spanned more than a decade. She did not comment on the charges or take questions.

The singer, who was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008 and has consistently denied any sexual misconduct, was to appear in court within hours. His attorney, Steve Greenberg, said Kelly planned to turn himself.

"He is extraordinarily disappointed and depressed. He is shell-shocked by this," Greenberg told The Associated Press.

The arrest sets the stage for another #MeToo-era celebrity trial. Bill Cosby went to prison last year, and former Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein is awaiting trial.

Best known for hits such as I Believe I Can Fly, Kelly was charged a week after Michael Avenatti, the attorney whose clients have included porn star Stormy Daniels, said he gave prosecutors new video evidence of the singer with an underage girl.

At a news conference in Chicago, Avenatti said a 14-year-old girl seen with R Kelly on the video is among four victims mentioned in the indictment. He said the footage shows two separate scenes on two separate days at Kelly's residence in the late 1990s.

During the video, both the victim and Kelly refer to her age 10 times, he said.

Mr Avenatti said he represents six clients, including two victims, two parents and two people he describes as "knowing R. Kelly and being within his inner circle for the better part of 25 years".

The new charges marked "a watershed moment," he said, adding that he believes more than 10 other people associated with Kelly should be charged as "enablers" for helping with the assaults, transporting minors and covering up evidence.

Charging Kelly now for actions that occurred in the same time frame as the allegations from the 2008 trial suggests the accusers are cooperating this time and willing to testify.

Because the alleged victim 10 years ago denied that she was on the video and did not testify, the state's attorney office had little recourse except to charge the singer with the lesser offence under Illinois law, child pornography, which required a lower standard of evidence.

Each count of the new charges carries up to seven years in prison. If Kelly is convicted on all 10 counts, a judge could decide that the sentences run one after the other - making it possible for him to receive up to 70 years behind bars. Probation is also an option under the statute.

Mr Greenberg said he offered to sit down with prosecutors before charges were filed to discuss why the allegations were "baseless." But they refused, he said.

"Unfortunately, they have succumbed to the court of public opinion, who've convicted him," he said.

Legally and professionally, the walls began closing in on Kelly after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and the multipart Lifetime documentary Surviving R Kelly, which aired last month. Together they detailed allegations he was holding women against their will and running a "sex cult."

#MeToo activists and a social media movement using the hashtag #MuteRKelly called on streaming services to drop Kelly's music and promoters not to book any more concerts. Protesters demonstrated outside Kelly's Chicago studio.

As recently as Thursday, two women held a news conference in New York [https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/world/383132/r-kelly-faces-fresh-claims-of-sexual-abuse

to describe how Kelly picked them out of a crowd] at a Baltimore after-party in the mid-1990s when they were underage. They said Kelly had sex with one of the teens when she was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol and could not consent.

Latresa Scaff and Rochelle Washington were joined by lawyer Gloria Allred when they told their story publicly for the first time.

In the indictment, the prosecution addressed the question of the statute of limitations, saying that even abuse that happened more than two decades ago falls within the charging window allowed under Illinois law. Victims typically have 20 years to report abuse, beginning when they turn 18.

The singer and songwriter, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, rose from poverty on Chicago's South Side and has retained a sizable following. He has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. His collaborators have included Jay-Z and Usher.

- AP

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