Chicago judge sets bond at $1M in R. Kelly sex abuse case

R. Kelly was ordered to pay $1 million US bond Saturday at his first court hearing since the R&B star was charged with sexually abusing four people, including three minors, in a case that seemed likely to produce another #MeToo trial involving a celebrity.

The 52-year-old musician turned himself in late Friday and spent a night in jail before being taken to the courthouse. He stood with his hands behind his back and said to the judge, “How are you?”

Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, said his client is not a flight risk and told the judge, “Contrary to the song, Mr. Kelly doesn’t like to fly.”

Kelly remains in jail and the bond requires Kelly to post $100,000 to be released.

The judge called the allegations “disturbing.” Kelly looked down at the floor as judge spoke.

Kelly has been trailed for decades by allegations that he violated underage girls and women and held some as virtual slaves. He was charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Authorities said the abuse dated back as far as 1998 and spanned more than a decade.

The singer-songwriter, who was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, has consistently denied any sexual misconduct. His attorney, Steve Greenberg, told reporters following the singer’s arrest that one of the charges he faces appears to be tied to a decade-old child pornography case.

R. Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg speaks to the media after Kelly turned himself in to police Friday in Chicago. (Paul Beaty/Associated Press)

“Double jeopardy should bar that case,” Greenberg said. “He won that case.”

Greenberg said prosecutors rushed to judgment Friday in charging Kelly. He called the singer “an innocent man.”

“Mr. Kelly is strong,” Greenberg added. “He’s got a lot of support, and he’s going to be vindicated on all these charges.”

Best known for hits such as I Believe I Can Fly, Kelly broke into the R&B scene in 1993 with his first solo album, 12 Play, which produced such popular sex-themed songs as Bump N’ Grind and Your Body’s Callin’.

R. Kelly turns himself in at 1st District police headquarters in Chicago on Friday. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune via AP)

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 Céline Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. His collaborators have included Jay-Z and Usher.

The jury in 2008 acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges that centred on a graphic video that prosecutors said showed him having sex with a girl as young as 13. He and the young woman allegedly seen with him denied they were in the 27-minute video, even though the picture quality was good and witnesses testified it was them. The woman did not take the stand. Kelly could have gotten 15 years in prison.

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

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For years, many R. Kelly fans have ignored the R&B singer’s questionable behaviour. A new documentary is now testing that loyalty. With accusations of predatory behaviour, mental and sexual abuse from multiple women, the allegations appear to be gaining traction and critics are calling for Kelly’s music to be silenced. 2:36

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

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.

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.

Charges laid in wake of new video, documentary

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 Friday, 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.

Attorney Michael Avenatti speaks at a news conference on Friday. Avenatti said a 14-year-old girl is among four victims mentioned in the indictment. (Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press)

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.”

Legally and professionally, the walls began closing in on Kelly after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and the multi-part 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.

Rochelle Washington, left, and attorney Gloria Allred, right, look on Latresa Scaff speaks during a news conference in New York on Thursday. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

As recently as Thursday, two women held a news conference in New York 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.