R. Kelly not expected to testify at his trial

R. Kelly has been accused of sexual abuse, racketeering and transporting people across state lines for sex (REUTERS)

R. Kelly is not expected to testify at his sex trafficking trial, according to a list of witnesses provided by his lawyers.

The star's defence began on Monday, after a month of graphic testimony from a series of men and women who accused Mr Kelly of abusing them as teenagers.

The first two defence witnesses said they had never seen Mr Kelly act inappropriately towards underage girls.

The singer, 54, denies all the charges against him.

These include one count of racketeering and eight violations of an anti-sex-trafficking law known as the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting individuals across state lines for the purpose of sex.

Prosecutors have portrayed the singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, as a predator who groomed and preyed on women and young girls as far back as the mid-1990s, when songs like I Believe I Can Fly and She's Got That Vibe propelled him to fame.

His alleged victims include the singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when Mr Kelly married her illegally in 1994. The marriage was later annulled, and Aaliyah died in a 2001 plane crash.

The jury in Brooklyn heard from a number of men and women, who said the star stripped them of control, enforcing draconian rules over when they could eat, sleep and go to the bathroom, and pressured them into sexual acts, which he would often videotape.

Several witnesses accused Kelly of failing to tell them he had the sexually transmitted disease herpes, which they subsequently contracted during sexual intercourse with him.

R. Kelly arriving at a court hearing in 2019
R. Kelly pictured arriving at a court hearing in 2019 (Getty Images)

Mr Kelly's lawyers have portrayed his accusers as groupies who are collectively seeking revenge after their relationships with the R&B singer faded.

The prosecution case ended on Monday, but the star's defence got off to a shaky start after they scrapped a list of likely witnesses at the last minute.

Instead, three new witnesses were called, one of whom was unable to attend the court. Mr Kelly's lawyers said they were "diligently searching for funds" to bring that person to New York.

'Basic chivalry'

First to testify was Dhanai Ramnanan, an aspiring singer who has worked with Mr Kelly since 2005.

He described the star as "a mentor" and "a good friend", and said he had never witnessed Mr Kelly verbally abuse a woman, nor stop anyone from eating or using the bathroom.

"Whenever we'd go to a restaurant, they'd sit down first, they'd order first, they got to eat first," he said of the star's girlfriends. "I mean, chivalry, basically."

A prosecutor, Maria Cruz Melendez, tried on cross-examination to show the witness was not that close to Mr Kelly and wanted to stay on his good side to advance his own music career.

The second witness was Larry Hood, a childhood friend of Mr Kelly and a former Chicago police officer, who testified that he had never seen the star hanging around teenage girls.

"As a police officer, I would have had to take action against that," he told the court. "I never had to take any action. I was never made aware of any wrongdoing."

Larry Hood
Larry Hood was a childhood friend of R. Kelly who later worked as his bodyguard (Reuters)

However, under cross-examination, he admitted to seeing "little Aaliyah" and a group of her "hype girls" when she first met Mr Kelly in the early 1990s.

Asked whether she was 12 or 13 at that time, he replied, "Yeah, approximately," adding, "She was a young lady, yes."

Last week, a witness named Angela told the court she had witnessed Mr Kelly performing a sex act on Aaliyah in 1993, when she was 13 or 14 - making her the youngest alleged victim of his abuse.

Mr Hood said he only learned about Mr Kelly's illegal wedding to the 15-year-old Aaliyah "later in life".

The trial is now in its final stages, with Judge Ann M. Donnelly saying she expects the jury to begin deliberations by the end of the week.

Mr Kelly's lawyers say they intend to call about half a dozen more witnesses, including an investigator, an accountant and a friend of Jerhonda Pace, the first accuser to take the stand at the trial.

Mr Kelly was not on the list. The star previously protested his innocence in an angry and tearful TV interview, perhaps making his lawyers wary of a similar outburst in court.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial in Brooklyn, the singer is facing a separate trial in Chicago on child pornography and obstruction charges, in addition to sex abuse charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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