Lawyers granted slight delay in opening of R. Kelly trial

NEW YORK — Lawyers for R&B singer R. Kelly were granted a little more time Thursday to prepare his defense for his upcoming sex-trafficking trial in New York City.

At a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly said jury selection would go forward on Aug. 9 as originally planned but agreed to delay opening statements until Aug. 18 rather than start the openings right after the panel is picked.

The jailed Kelly switched legal teams less than a month ago. His new attorneys had asked a judge Monday to postpone the New York trial for a longer period, saying they couldn’t adequately prepare.

The lawyers said they had been unable to meet with him in person while he was quarantined for 14 days in a Brooklyn federal jail after being brought there from a Chicago lockup on June 22. Federal jails have been quarantining transferred and newly incarcerated inmates since early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legal team also asked Thursday that Kelly be released on bail so he could better assist in his defense — a request the judge quickly denied. She assured them that they could now see Kelly in person at the jail seven days a week if they wanted.

“You’re going to have full access to Mr. Kelly,” she said.

Kelly, 54, was making his first in-person appearance in a New York court since his transfer. He didn’t speak, except to exchange greetings with the judge.

The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling R&B singer is charged with 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.

The case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

He denies ever abusing anyone.

Kelly won multiple Grammys 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 spins 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.

Scrutiny intensified again amid the #MeToo movement in recent years, with multiple women going public with accusations against the singer. The pressure intensified with the release of the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” in 2019.

Criminal charges soon followed.