Jerhonda Johnson Pace told a federal jury that she began having sex with R. Kelly shortly after she turned 16, as the singer’s racketeering trial got under way in Brooklyn on Wednesday. She said she had met the singer when she was just 14, outside a courthouse in Chicago where she had gone to support Kelly when he was on trial in the early 2000s for sexual misconduct, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Pace, now 28, said she’d told the singer she was 19, but revealed her true age after their first sexual contact.
“He asked me, what is that supposed to mean?” Pace, now 28, said on Wednesday, according to the Tribune. “He told me to continue telling people I was 19 and act like I was 21,” adding that Kelly had instructed her on how to perform sex acts in the ways he liked them. “He took my virginity,” she said.
She said that Kelly had given her a drink called Sex in the Kitchen (named after one of his songs). “It was delicious and then I started to feel a bit ill.”
Over the following six months, the two continued a sexual relationship, Pace said, noting that he began to institute the “rules” that other accusers have cited, taking her phone away, not allowing her to see certain friends and restricting her movements.
“We we’re not able to leave out the rooms, whatever area we were in we could not leave out to meet up … It was part of the rules. Rob’s rules,” she testified.
The statements are part of racketeering charges — which are more commonly used in cases involving cartels, gangs or organized crime — that characterize Kelly’s alleged practice of using his staff to recruit young women and men for sex as a criminal organization. At the hearing Wednesday, prosecutors detailed a hotel outside Chicago where Kelly married his then-protégé Aaliyah when she was just 15 and he was 27 (the marriage was quickly annulled) and a studio in the city that was the site of many of his alleged abuses. (Head here for a timeline of the events leading up to Kelly’s New York trial.)
“This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot — this case is about a predator.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said in her opening statement to the jury, which consists of seven men and five women.
Kelly’s attorney, Nicole Blank Becker, portrayed the singer as the victim of women who wanted to “tell their friends that they were with a superstar.”
“He didn’t recruit them. They were fans. They came to Mr. Kelly,” she said. “They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr. Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent.”
Becker said the government’s case was an overreach and that future witnesses will be lying or exaggerating to indemnify the singer.
“There will be so many untruths told to you that even the government will not be able to untangle the web of lies,” she said. “They’re going to form a picture that basically Mr. Kelly is this monster.”
“Some of these relationships that Mr. Kelly had were beautiful,” she said, while trying to explain behavior many accusers have described as innocuous: That women wore baggy clothes to avoid being harassed at Kelly’s concerts, and urinated in cups not because they were denied permission to use the bathroom, as accusers have alleged, but because they were often on long bus trips while on tour.
“Pee in a cup? Yeah, you might hear that,” she said. “It’s not illegal, ladies and gentlemen.”
According to the Tribune’s report, Kelly, 54, “sat silently at the defense table, stone-faced except for an occasional, barely perceptible frown.”
In the coming days, the jury is expected to hear details about Kelly’s brief, illegal marriage to Aaliyah and abuses other accusers allegedly suffered, including Azriel Clary, who had spoken in support of the singer until last year, when she left his apartment and joined those accusing him of abuse.
The trial is expected to several last weeks and has a maximum sentence of 10 years to up to life in prison, prosecutors said. When the New York trial concludes, Kelly faces multiple charges in Chicago, including sexual abuse, assault and witness tampering. He also faces charges in Minnesota.