WASHINGTON — American singer-songwriter and record producer R. Kelly’s sex trafficking trial is about to take its first significant step forward after several delays waylaid the process.

The lawyers for the R&B hitmaker’s case will begin jury selection on Aug. 16, 2021, in New York City, a full two years after he was charged with abusing women and girls for close to 20 years as his career allegedly shielded him from consequences.

A federal court judge in Brooklyn will question potential jurors about whether they can keep an open mind about Kelly amid immense public scrutiny brought on mainly by the #MeToo movement. A documentary series also shined a light on the singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, and his alleged illegal activities.

The proceeding will occur amid coronavirus pandemic precautions restricting the press and the public from overflowing courtrooms with video feeds. Kelly has been locked up since indicted in 2019, mostly housed in a federal jail in Chicago. He was moved last month to the federal Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn to face trial in a case that’s further tarnished his reputation as a singer.

The last two years behind bars have taken a toll on Kelly both physically and financially. Last week, defense attorney Devereaux Cannick told a judge that Kelly needs to be measured for new clothing because he’s gained so much weight in jail.

He even asked that court transcripts be provided at no cost because Kelly has been unable to work for two years, saying, “His funds are depleted.”

The Grammy-winning, singer has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of leading an enterprise of managers, bodyguards, and other employees who helped him recruit women and girls for sex.

Federal prosecutors say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly.

Defense lawyers have said Kelly’s alleged victims were groupies who turned up at his shows and made it known they “were dying to be with him.”

They only started accusing him of abuse years later when public sentiment shifted in the #MeToo era, they said.

The trial had been expected to start earlier in the year. But opening statements were moved to Aug. 18, 2021, after Kelly fired his original defense team.

Jurors are expected to hear testimony from several of his accusers. A judge has ruled that their first names will only refer to the women.

Prosecutors have said the jury will also hear evidence that Kelly schemed with others to pay for a fake ID for Aaliyah, a singer on the rise at 15 years old, in a secret ceremony in 1994.

In court papers, Aaliyah has been identified as “Jane Doe #1” because she was still a minor when Kelly began a sexual relationship with her and believed she had become pregnant.

“As a result, to shield himself from criminal charges related to his illegal sexual relationship with Jane Doe #1, Kelly arranged to secretly marry her to prevent her from being compelled to testify against him in the future,” the papers reveal.

Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.

This case is only a tiny part of the peril being faced by the singer, and he has also not pleaded guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

The singer won multiple Grammy Awards for “I Believe I Can Fly,” a 1996 song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations, weddings, advertisements, and elsewhere.

Nearly a decade later, he began releasing what eventually became 22 musical chapters of “Trapped in the Closet,” a drama that spun a tale of sexual deceit and became a cult classic.

But Kelly has been trailed for decades by complaints and allegations about his sexual behavior, including a 2002 child pornography case in Chicago. He was acquitted in that case in 2008.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Nikita Nikhil

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