CHICAGO — A judge on Saturday gave R. Kelly a chance to go free while the R&B star awaits trial on charges that he sexually abused four people, including three minors, in a case that seemed likely to produce another #MeToo reckoning for a celebrity.
Cook County Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. set bond at $1 million bond, meaning that the 52-year-old Grammy winner must post $100,000 to be released or remain behind bars until he is tried on the allegations that date back as far as 1998 and span more than a decade.
Kelly 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?”
His attorney, Steve Greenberg, said Kelly is not a flight risk and told the judge, “Contrary to the song, Mr. Kelly doesn’t like to fly.” One of Kelly’s best-known hits is “I Believe I Can Fly.”
The bond equals $250,000 for each of the four people Kelly is charged with abusing, the judge said.
Greenberg said Kelly “really doesn’t have any more money,” suggesting that others had mismanaged his wealth. Still, he said he expected that Kelly would be able to come up with enough money for bail.
Asked later how Greenberg would get paid, he said, “That’s none of your business.”
The judge called the allegations “disturbing.” The singer-songwriter looked down at the floor as the judge spoke.
Kelly’s DNA was found in semen on one of the accuser’s shirts, and semen found on one worn by another was submitted for DNA testing, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said.
Kelly met one of the accusers when she was celebrating her 16th birthday party at a restaurant and another when he signed an autograph during his 2008 trial on child-pornography charges, Foxx said.
Prosecutors said they have a video of another accuser that shows R. Kelly having sex with her when she was 14.
A fourth accuser, a hairdresser, told prosecutors that she thought she was going to braid R. Kelly’s hair, but that he instead tried to force her to give him oral sex. The woman, who was 24 at the time, was able to pull away, but Kelly ejaculated on her and spit in her face, Foxx said.
After the hearing, Greenberg told reporters that Kelly did not force anyone to have sex.
“He’s a rock star. He doesn’t have to have nonconsensual sex,” Greenberg said.
The judge ordered Kelly to surrender his passport, ending his hopes of doing a tour of Europe in April. Kelly defiantly scheduled concerts in Germany and the Netherlands despite the cloud of legal issues looming over him.
The recording artist, whose legal name is Robert 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.
Kelly, who was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, has consistently denied any sexual misconduct. He 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’.”
He rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side and has retained a sizable following. Kelly has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine 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 centered 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, and she did not take the stand. Kelly could have gotten 15 years in prison.
Charging Kelly now for actions that occurred in the same time frame as the allegations from the 2008 trial suggests the accusers are cooperating this time and willing to testify.
Because the alleged victim 10 years ago denied that she was on the video and did not testify, the state’s attorney office had little recourse except to charge the lesser offense under Illinois law, child pornography, which required a lower standard of evidence.
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.
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.
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 multipart 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.
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.