The Final Days of the R. Kelly Trial

It’s Thursday. We’ll look at the trial of the R&B superstar R. Kelly, which began five weeks ago. We’ll also look in on a place for, um, rook stars in Greenwich Village.

R. Kelly established himself in the 1990s as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation, the Grammy-winning R&B superstar behind hits like “I Believe I Can Fly,” which Rolling Stone ranked as No. 406 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

But there were whispers about sexual misconduct even then — accusations that pointed the way to a trial that is drawing to a close in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. A verdict probably won’t end Kelly’s time in court: He has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

The prosecutors presented him as the mastermind of a decades-long operation involving managers and bodyguards who helped him recruit and transport young women and underage girls and boys for sex. He has long denied the allegations of sexual misconduct and physical abuse, just as he denied child pornography charges during a high-profile trial in Chicago in 2008. The case centered on a videotape that showed Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. She refused to testify, he was acquitted — and his career rebounded.

The atmosphere surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct has changed since then, with #MeToo and the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and Charlie Rose. And the public perception of Kelly changed with “Surviving R. Kelly,” a 2019 television documentary series that included interviews with several women who accused him of abuse.

This time around, the prosecutors said that his mesmerizing public image had camouflaged a secretive predator. “For many years, what happened in the defendant’s world stayed in the defendant’s world,” Elizabeth Geddes, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the jurors in her final arguments on Wednesday. “No longer.”

Kelly did not testify, eliminating the chance of an emotional outburst like the one during an interview with Gayle King of “CBS This Morning,” when the singer bounded from his chair and shouted directly at the camera. His lawyers tried to paint his accusers as invidious groupies who were angered when they fell from favor and then turned against him as the reckoning gained force.

A bride who was 15, but the marriage certificate said 18

One portion of the testimony in Brooklyn focused on Kelly’s 1994 marriage to the R&B singer Aaliyah, who was his manager’s niece. He was 27. She was 15 but was listed on a marriage certificate as being 18.

Geddes, the prosecutor, said that Kelly insisted on the marriage when he believed Aaliyah was pregnant. For the wedding to take place, she said, his associates had to bribe an Illinois employee to create fake identification for the bride.

“Just because you have one of your henchmen do your dirty work doesn’t make you any less responsible,” Geddes said.


Brace yourselves for showers, gusts of wind and possible thunderstorms, New York: a flash flood watch will begin in the afternoon. The rainy weather, with temps in the high 70s during the day dropping to the high 60s at night, is here to stay for at least another day.

alternate-side parking

In effect until Sept. 28. (Shemini Atzeret).

The latest New York news

Former President Donald J. Trump filed a lawsuit accusing Mary L. Trump, The New York Times and three of its reporters of conspiring to publish information about his tax records.

Than Than Htwe and her husband moved to America in hopes of better opportunity for their son. As anti-Asian attacks surged, the family encountered violence and tragedy instead.

A man who was being held at a floating jail barge docked just north of Rikers Island died on Wednesday. He is the 12th person in the city’s custody to die this year.

A happy pawn in the chess renaissance

Mariella Rudi, a freelancer who has written for The Times’s real estate and styles sections, did what 60-plus million of us did during the pandemic: She watched “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix. Then she did what I did not do. She learned chess.

She also discovered the Chess Forum, which bills itself as the last chess shop in New York City.

We agreed to meet there the other day. When I walked in, she was already at a table in the back, defeating our photographer, Sara Messinger.

She had said that the Chess Forum was a story of passion and persistence. It’s also a place of quick-jumping knights and of impatient fingers tapping the edge of the board as one player awaits his opponent’s move. And the Chess Forum is an overwhelmingly male sanctum: On the afternoon we were there, Mariella and Sara were the only women playing.

The owner, Imad Khachan, credits “The Queen’s Gambit” with rescuing the Chess Forum. Like so many proprietors of small businesses that were never big profit centers, he had hung on for years without raising prices ($5 a game). But the tables were filling again, thanks to teenagers and New York University students raised on online chess. Then came the nearly three-month-long shutdown in the heartbreaking early days of the coronavirus pandemic last year.

Now, with a musical version of “The Queen’s Gambit” in the works, he is betting that the chess renaissance will continue. And the prodigies are back at the venerable Marshall Chess Club, also in Greenwich Village. So are the chess hustlers in Washington Square Park.

Khachan said the Chess Forum was like a pool hall for chess, with pickup matches day and night. Like many stores downtown, it is also a place for celebrity sightings. He said that Alec Baldwin had stopped in, saying his wife had played chess there. The American prodigy Bobby Fischer also played there, decades ago, as did Bob Dylan. And Fabiano Caruana, the 29-year-old chess prodigy who has been a grandmaster for not quite half his life, took lessons at the Chess Forum as a child, Khachan said.

Khachan, a Palestinian from Lebanon, moved to New York as a doctoral candidate in English in 1985. A decade later, after abandoning the Ph.D., he borrowed from relatives and friends to open the Chess Forum. He had worked at a chess shop across the street, now long gone.

The storefront he leased, at 219 Thompson Street, was a print shop, but chess figured in its past. In the 1970s, it had housed a chess studio run by Nicolas Rossolimo, a Russian-born grandmaster and four-time Olympic chess competitor. He liked the store’s L-shaped layout, since a knight in chess can trace something of an L-shape on a chessboard.

And now it’s 25 years later, and the Chess Forum is his life. “You do it for the love of it,” he said. “At my age, you don’t have many choices to restart a career.”

What we’re reading

On Thursday, New York City is expected to pass bills aimed at protecting delivery workers, The City reports.

Some employees did not have the luxury of thinking about returning to the office — they never left. Six workers share their experiences.

Bon Appétit interviewed 19 people in the Broadway industry about restaurants in the Theater District that they’re returning to.

Ritchie Torres, a congressman from America’s poorest district, New York’s 15th, is “perhaps the most singular political talent of his generation,” argues Bret Stephens in Opinion.


Sticky situation

Dear Diary:

As I sat finishing a burger on the Dumbo pier while waiting for the ferry to come in, I watched tourists taking selfies and enjoying burgers of their own. We all were feeling happy and free.

I watched a sparrow hop toward a translucent, melted, gummy-candy blob that was stuck to the pier and peck its tiny beak into it.

To my surprise, it stayed there. No matter how much the bird flapped its wings, it was stuck. It tried to use its feet to leverage itself free, but only wound up getting its feet stuck too.

Someone must help this bird, I thought.

I stood up to look for someone who might come to the rescue, but no one else seemed to notice what was happening. My heart started pounding when I realized I was that someone.

I went over and spilled some seltzer on the bird’s beak, which allowed it to raise its head. I tried pouring a little on its feet, but they were too stuck for it to make a difference.

Thinking of all the reasons one might not touch a bird, I got out my handkerchief anyway and scooted the sparrow gently from behind. The bird popped off the blob and flew away.

My boat pulled in and I got on, just like everyone else, except that I felt like a hero.

— Michele Mirisola

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Andrew Hinderaker, Rick Martinez and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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