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When Jerhonda Pace was 16 years old, R. Kelly told her that he could “train” her to sexually please him, Pace told a courtroom Wednesday. And as their relationship continued, he allegedly wielded his power over her in egregious ways, like forcing her to ask to use the bathroom and to call him “Daddy.”
Pace had originally told Kelly that she was 19, according to the New York Times. But in 2009, after Kelly performed a sex act on her, she said, she revealed her real age: 16.
“He asked me, ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ and told me to tell everyone I was 19—and to act 21,” Pace testified.
Pace was the first witness to testify about being abused by Kelly at the R&B hitmaker’s New York trial, where he’s facing charges related to years of allegedly abusing women. Identified in court documents as “Jane Doe #4,” Pace said that Kelly took her virginity. He also, she said, sexually and physically abused her.
On one occasion in 2010, Pace said, she didn’t properly acknowledge Kelly when he walked into a room. He then slapped and choked her to the point of passing out, HuffPost reported.
“He spit in my face and told me to put my head down in shame,” Pace testified.
Afterward, Pace escaped Kelly when, she said, Kelly wanted to have sex with her in a particular pair of heels, according to HuffPost. She said the heels were at her uncle’s house, and, instead of fetching them, she left.
“He spit in my face and told me to put my head down in shame.”
Kelly has pleaded not guilty and generally denied ever abusing anybody.
But during the trial, which is expected to last a month or more, prosecutors are hoping to make the case that R. Kelly was essentially a mob boss running an entourage that aimed to “recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly,” as one of the federal indictments in the New York case puts it.
Prosecutors have described a litany of alleged abuses in court records, including accusations that Kelly created child pornography, illegally passed on sexually transmitted diseases, and bribed a state employee to forge documents. (Those documents allegedly played a role in helping Kelly marry the late singer Aaliyah when she was underage.) Prosecutors are also hoping to introduce evidence of alleged crimes that Kelly is not charged with, to help contextualize the charges that Kelly is facing, such as the accusation that he sexually abused an underage boy.
“This case is about a predator, a man who for decades used his fame, his popularity, and a network of people at his disposal to target, groom, and exploit girls, boys, and young women for his own sexual gratification,” said prosecutor Maria Cruz Melendez, Vulture reported. “That man, that predator, is the defendant, Robert Sylvester Kelly—more commonly known as R. Kelly.”
Nicole Blank Becker, a lawyer for Kelly, made a rambling opening statement punctuated with missteps. She said that some of Kelly’s accusers enjoyed the “notoriety” of being with the singer, that their relationships with him could be “beautiful.” Of one unnamed woman who’s accused Kelly of abuse, Becker said, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
She also called some of Kelly’s accusers “girls”—before correcting herself to “women”—drew several sustained objections from the prosecution, and used the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” more than 100 times, according to Rolling Stone. She also helpfully pointed out that Aaliyah could not testify, because she is dead. (She died in a 2001 plane crash.)
An anonymous jury made up of seven men and five women has been assembled to decide Kelly’s culpability. Due to restrictions around the coronavirus pandemic, the public and the press are blocked from viewing the trial in-person.
Regardless of the outcome of the New York case, Kelly is slated to stand trial in federal court in Illinois.