▶ Watch Video: First witness testifies in R. Kelly’s racketeering trial in New York

The first of a series of accusers scheduled to testify in the federal racketeering case against R. Kelly became emotional in a Brooklyn courtroom Thursday as she described being slapped and choked by the disgraced R&B singer. Jerhonda Pace had begun her testimony Wednesday, alleging sexual and physical abuse during a relationship with Kelly that started when she was a 16-year-old fan in 2009.

In this courtroom sketch, accuser Jerhonda Pace testifies against disgraced R&B star R. Kelly during the singer’s racketeering trial Wednesday, August 18, 2021, in New York.

Elizabeth Williams via AP

Pace, who is pregnant and days away from her due date, was asked on Thursday to read a few lines from a diary that she prepared at the advice of civil lawyers she retained after leaving Kelly, whose legal name is Robert Sylvester Kelly.

She cried as she read the entry dated January 23, 2010:  “I went to Rob’s house and Rob called me a silly b—. Rob slapped me three times. He said if I lied to him again, it’s not going to be an open hand next time. He spit in my face and in my mouth and choked me during an argument. I had sex with him, I had oral sex with him. Then I became fed up, and I went home and confessed.”

Elizabeth Geddes, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, showed phone records as evidence of communication between Kelly and Pace on the day of the diary entry. 

Prosecutors in New York accuse Kelly of operating a criminal sex trafficking network composed of his managers, bodyguards, drivers, assistants and others who recruited children and women at concert venues where he was performing and other locations. Once Kelly had the accusers alone, he “dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically,” Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Maria Cruz Melendez said Wednesday. But defense attorneys have blasted the alleged racketeering enterprise as an overreach by prosecutors, saying in one court filing the women sought out Kelly’s attention and years later have “groupie remorse.” Kelly’s attorney, Nicole Blank Becker, said Wednesday the relationships were consensual and the women enjoyed the “notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar.”

In her testimony on Thursday, Pace told a prosecutor that Kelly asked her to dress like a Girl Scout and wear her hair in pigtails during their relationship. 

Kelly’s defense team sought to cast doubt on the nature of Pace’s relationship with Kelly during their cross-examination. Defense attorney Deveraux Cannick asked Pace, “Now, you were in fact stalking him, weren’t you?” She denied stalking Kelly. Cannick then asked Pace about why she met with prosecutors regarding her testimony, participated in interviews with the media and wrote a book, for which Pace said she was paid more than $25,000 but less than $100,000.

In this courtroom artist’s sketch made from a video screen monitor of a Brooklyn courtroom, defendant R. Kelly, left, listens during the opening day of his racketeering trial, Wednesday, August 18, 2021 in New York.

AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams

Cannick also asked Pace about an incident at Kelly’s home in 2009 during which she alleges Kelly told her to take off her bathing suit and it made her uncomfortable. Pace had testified she initially told Kelly she was 19 but confessed that she was 16 to him after the incident.

“So you just took off your clothes,” Carrick said.

“Yes,” Pace replied.

Carrick asked Pace to read a paragraph from a settlement agreement with Kelly stating that she showed Kelly identification indicating she was 19 and never told him she was younger. Pace testified her attorneys didn’t let her see the agreement before she signed it.

The 54-year-old Kelly, who also has pending criminal cases in Minnesota and Illinois, faces 10 years to life in prison if he is convicted in the New York case. His racketeering indictment includes underlying counts of sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping, forced labor and violations of the Mann Act, which criminalizes the transportation of women and girls for any “immoral purpose.” He has pleaded not guilty and has steadfastly maintained his innocence, including in an explosive 2019 interview with CBS News’ Gayle King. 

The Gayle King Interview with R. Kelly


On Wednesday, Pace had described several incidents where Kelly became physically violent with her, including an incident at his home near Chicago in 2010 when he slapped her and choked her until she passed out. 

Pace said Kelly would often make recordings of their sexual encounters, and that they would watch the recordings and Kelly would tell her how she could improve. Pace said she was told to follow “Rob’s rules” when she was with the singer – restricting how she could dress, who she could speak with and when she could use the bathroom. The testimony supports prosecutors’ allegations that Kelly “demanded absolute obedience” from the women and enforced rules including calling him “Daddy,” wearing baggy clothing when not with him, and keeping their heads down and not looking at other men. Kelly enacted punishments on those that didn’t follow the rules, Melendez said. 

Pace and five other women in the indictment are referred to in court filings as “Jane Does,” but Pace has spoken publicly about her accusations. Prosecutors have also asked a judge to allow the jury to hear about more than a dozen other accusers – including two who were underage boys at the time – who were not part of the indictment, but whose stories they hope will bolster their case that Kelly had a pattern of exploitation. The legal strategy has been used by prosecutors in other #MeToo era cases against Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. A judge has not yet ruled on whether to allow the additional testimony.

Known for his 1996 song “I Believe I Can Fly” and other chart-topping hits, Kelly has for years faced allegations of sexual abuse. He was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography charges when a key witness did not testify. A series of women later came forward with accusations of abuse in the 2019 Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” prompting public outcry over the allegations in the #MeToo era. The singer was charged with federal sex crimes in New York and Chicago the same year.    

Costanza Maio and The Associated Press contributed reporting.