"I go to the ends of the Earth to have him vindicated," Dana Jackson said.By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — Speaking publicly for the first time since R. Kelly’s arrest on federal sex crime charges, his sisters say they hope “justice is served” and he is eventually set free, and a longtime friend described the embattled singer as “God’s gift to the world” who has wrongly been painted as a monster.

Kelly’s sisters, Lisa and Cassandra, were in court as a judge set Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago to begin in April. The federal case in Chicago charges him with sex abuse, child pornography and obstruction of justice. Kelly also faces separate sex crime cases in Cook County, New York and Minnesota.

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“It’s a lot to digest for his family, each and every day, waking up seeing him on TV, seeing him going through this, the allegations, the social media, everything that he’s been going through. It’s a lot to digest, but we’ll get through it,” said Lisa Kelly. “We’re hoping that he gets free. I’m hoping that justice is served.”

Dana Jackson, who described Kelly as a mentor and said the singer basically raised him, said he believes Kelly is innocent and described the singer as “God’s gift.”

“It’s very hard to see a man that’s been painted as a monster that I’ve never seen in 22 years. I’ve never seen none of this,” Jackson said. “He’s falsely accused, and the only thing that I can say is because I am one of the ones that’s been around him for the long adventure, one thing I can say is that he is a loving person. He’s like God’s gift, really; God’s gift to the world.”

Jackson was part of a group of R. Kelly supporters who came to court on Wednesday under the banner #HimToo.

“He don’t like little girls. He don’t mess with 14- to 15- 16-year-olds,” said Kelly supporter Nyree Matthews. “He’s R. Kelly on stage. He’s Robert Sylvester Kelly off stage. He is a United States citizen. He is a man. And y’all need to separate them two, from each other.”

Kelly has been in federal custody since July 11, when he was arrested in connection with two separate federal cases in Chicago and New York.

The federal indictment in Chicago charges him with 13 felony counts including child pornography, enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity and obstruction of justice. According to the charges in Chicago, Kelly sexually abused five girls in the late 1990s, made videos of four of the victims and then paid hush money and made threats to cover up his sex crimes.

In the New York case, Kelly is accused of racketeering and Mann Act violations, which involve transporting a person across state lines to engage in illegal sexual activity. The racketeering case also accuses him of kidnapping, sexual exploitation of a child and forced labor.

Kelly also faces several sexual abuse and sexual assault charges in state court in Cook County. He was first indicted on 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse in February, accusing him of abusing four different victims. In May, prosecutors filed upgraded charges involving one of those victims including aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The four aggravated criminal sex assault charges are class X felonies and carry prison terms of up to 30 years if he’s convicted.

Kelly also faces two charges of prostitution involving a minor in Minnesota.

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Allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault against Kelly date back nearly two decades, and through the recent Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” federal authorities in New York realized some of his acts happened there.

Jackson, who called Kelly a mentor, criticized the Lifetime miniseries, claiming it played on the audience’s emotions to turn people against Kelly.

“He’s loving. He’s always outpouring. He’s always uplifting. He’s always been there. He’s always that one that’s there for you when you need it,” Jackson said. “That’s why I ride the way I do, meaning that I go to the ends of the Earth to have him vindicated.”

Kelly’s close believe he will be acquitted again as he was of child pornography charges 11 years ago.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have argued that Kelly’s 2008 acquittal was due to the fact that he manipulated the victims and their families.

“We’re going to be here for him regardless,” said Cassandra Kelly.

Kelly is being held without bond, but his attorneys say they plan to ask a judge to grant him bail after his two live-in girlfriends find a new place to move after they move out of his Trump Tower condo.

In court filings, Kelly’s attorneys have said he is essentially illiterate and unable to read court documents in his case, forcing his lawyers to read filings and evidence to him out loud.

“It’s very challenging, but he gets through it. He’s very smart, very talented, so he’s reached heights that someone else with the inability probably wouldn’t have been able to reach,” Lisa Kelly said.

Kelly’s sisters have not attended other hearings in Kelly’s various criminal cases and said they wanted to show their support at Wednesday’s hearing.

“It’s heartbreaking to see,” Cassandra Kelly said. “We’re here to support him. We’re here to support him and show that the brother-sisterly love for him, just be here for him as a family.”

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Kelly’s sisters said they have only been in contact with him through his attorneys since his arrest and are waiting to get approval to visit him in jail.

Megan Hickey