Opening statements are underway in the trial of R. Kelly, who is facing federal charges in New York for sex trafficking and racketeering.

Prosecutors characterized Kelly, 54, as a “predator” who committed sex crimes for almost 30 years. Five accusers, who are using pseudonyms, are expected to testify during the singer’s federal trial, according to the New York Daily News.

During opening statements, U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez described Kelly as “a man, who for decades, used his fame and popularity… to target and groom boys, girls, and young women for his own sexual gratification.”

The New York Times reported that before opening statements on Wednesday, the judge approved motions that would allow for a jury to hear details of Kelly’s illegal marriage to Aaliyah. Specifically, Kelly’s former personal assistant — who confessed to procuring the documents that facilitated the marriage — is expected to take the stand.

Melendez referred to Aaliyah — who Kelly allegedly impregnated when she was 15. Kelly was accused of marrying Aaliyah to avoid being prosecuted for the illicit relationship.

“If she’s his wife, she can’t testify against him,” Melendez explained, per the Daily News.

Aaliyah reached stardom in May 1994 with her hit single “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” which was penned by Kelly. Later that year, stories circulated that a 27-year-old Kelly secretly married the 15-year-old singer in Illinois—with Vibe magazine publishing the purported marriage license. Aaliyah’s parents reportedly had the union annulled.

Federal authorities in New York accused Kelly of bribing an Illinois government employee in 1994 to get a fake ID for Aaliyah so he could marry her. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001.

According to The Times, the judge also allowed the jury to hear about allegations made during a 2001 settlement agreement that involved R. Kelly giving two women herpes in 2001. Evidence will also be shown that he gave a minor a sexually transmitted disease in 1995.

Arrested in July 2020, Kelly is also facing 13 federal counts in Illinois for various charges, including child pornography and obstruction of justice. On the state level, Kelly is facing 21 sex-related criminal charges in Cook County, Illinois.

Last August, authorities in Minnesota charged Kelly with two counts of prostitution with a person younger than 18 in connection with an alleged 2001 incident.

Kelly has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.

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[Featured image: R. Kelly, Aaliyah Haughton/AP Photo/File]

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