For over 20 years, bestselling R&B artist R. Kelly has been dodging accusations of sexual misconduct ranging from child pornography to underage sex. In 2008, Kelly was acquitted in one trial in which he was alleged to have had sex and urinated on a 13-year-old. He’s also paid monetary settlements to several women who have accused him of both sexual and physical abuse.
Up until now, Kelly has escaped any real punitive damage, but with a new six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, last year’s BBC documentary, R. Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes, and a growing movement to #MuteRKelly with several artists like Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper making public mea culpas, the multi-platinum artist could be facing a whole new set of legal woes, most notably two separate criminal investigations in Atlanta and Chicago.
As protesters and supporters alike react to the growing pressure to find out what’s really happening behind the doors of the superstar’s homes, we’ve answered some of the toughest questions, like what’s happening next and whether Kelly could end up in court in the era of #MeToo.
Is R. Kelly being investigated?
There are two investigations being launched, one in Chicago and one in Atlanta. Kelly’s problems started up again after Buzzfeed broke a story in 2017 alleging that he was operating an abusive sex cult in both cities. The story, which centered on a woman who went simply by “J.,” prompted prosecutors in both states to begin looking into rumors and accusations, the most shocking of which suggests the singer may have, or is still holding, several women captive.
Most recently, police in Chicago interviewed Kelly after receiving a tip that he was holding two women hostage in his Trump Tower apartment. Officers visited his residence and found no evidence suggesting that the women were being held against their will. According to Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg, the singer invited the investigators inside the apartment and answered questions. “The police were professional,” Greenberg told USA Today. “The women were happy, healthy, and there because they wanted to be.”
Kelly also faces other questions in Georgia. TMZ first reported that after Surviving R. Kelly aired this month, the Fulton County D.A.’s Office began looking into the almost three decades of alleged abuse. Several of the woman who appeared in the Lifetime series are reportedly being questioned, though the D.A. has not officially made any statements that might suggest Kelly will be charged.
What prompted these investigations?
The documentaries, the families of missing women, and a growing backlash against Kelly are putting pressure on local authorities in the two states to investigate claims of sexual misconduct.
Cheryl Mack, Kelly’s former personal assistant, as well as Asante McGee and Kitti Jones, two ex-girlfriends, admitted publicly that they knew about and/or participated in the alleged sex cult. Jones told The Guardian that Kelly forced woman to have sex with one another in front of him, often referring to them as his “pets.” She said he was training women to serve him in what’s described as a kind of “sex dungeon.”
Each of these women also claims that several other females have been and may still be involved in the cult, a hostile situation in which Kelly controlled all aspects of women’s lives, like when and what they eat, how they dressed and what they do during sexual encounters. It’s also been alleged that Kelly confiscates women’s phones, locks the women inside private residences, and prevents them from contacting any friends or family.
Who are the women believed to be in this alleged cult?
There are a few woman who have said they escaped Kelly and have since spoken out against him. Several other families of young women have approached prosecutors in both states claiming that their children have been taken hostage by Kelly. Some of these young women (mostly teenagers) are believed to have been pursuing music careers when they met Kelly.
A former friend of Kelly’s, Lovell Jones, admitted last year that Kelly often asked him to find women — the younger, the better. Several of Kelly’s former employees have also gone public with similar stories.
The family of Joycelyn Savage has been very vocal. They believe their daughter is being brainwashed and held hostage by the singer, a claim that Savage vehemently denies. In fact, the 21-year-old appeared on a video call to TMZ late last year saying that she was staying with Kelly on her own accord. “I’m not being brainwashed,” she said.
Azriel Clary, another women who currently lives with both Savage and Kelly at his Trump Tower residence in Chicago, told police officers who responded to an anonymous tip, that she, too, was living with him voluntarily.
When did Kelly’s legal problems first start?
The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on the singer in 2000 when a video surfaced showing someone who was believed to be Kelly sexually assaulting and urinating on a 13-year-old girl in Chicago. Just two years later, Kelly was indicted by the Cook County D.A.’s Office on 21 counts of child pornography, stood trial, and after just one day of jury deliberations, he was acquitted on all charges in 2008. The singer has long denied that he was the man in the video.
Is there any other evidence that Kelly could be abusing young women?
The same year Kelly performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant in Miami. When police searched the singer’s home they discovered about a dozen images of Kelly engaged in sex acts with an underage girl on a digital camera. After much legal wrangling, the charges were dropped due to lack of probable cause for the original search warrant. Kelly never stood trial for possessing child pornography or having sex acts with an underage girl.
Has Kelly had any other legal issues?
Kelly’s had many run-ins with the law over the years, including several lawsuits by women who have accused him of physical and sexual abuse.
It started when he married Aaliyah in 1994. At the time, Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was just 15, even though the age of consent in Illinois is 16. The couple reportedly lied about Aaliyah’s age on the wedding certificate (though Kelly later said Aaliyah lied to him about her age), and by 1995, the marriage was annulled. In 1997, Aaliyah filed a lawsuit to have the records officially expunged, and both Aaliyah and Kelly denied they were ever married. Aaliyah, whose first album Kelly produced, died in a plane crash in 2001.
In 1996, Kelly and his entourage were involved in a fight at a health club in Louisiana. Kelly was found guilty of battery, placed on one year unsupervised probation and reached settlement in a lawsuit by the victim who received 110 stitches. That same year, Tiffany Hawkins sued Kelly for $10 million after accusing him of having sexual relations with her when she was just 15. He settled the lawsuit a year later for $250,000.
In 1998, Kelly was arrested on three misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct in Chicago, including violating a noise ordinance. Prosecutors eventually dropped all charges.
In 2001, Tracy Sampson, an intern at Epic Records, sued Kelly, who claimed she was involved in an abusive sexual relationship with when she was 17. She told the New York Post, “He often tried to control every aspect of my life, including who I would see and where I would go.” The case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
The same year, R. Kelly paid a settlement to Jerhonda Pace, a Chicago woman who claimed she was 16 when the “Trapped in the Closet” singer abused her both physically and emotionally. She later admitted she accepted a cash settlement from Kelly for an undisclosed amount.
Kelly was sued again in 2002 by Patrice Jones, a Chicago woman who claimed she became pregnant by Kelly while she was underage, and that he forced her to have an abortion. He settled this case out of court after paying an undisclosed amount.
Montina Woods sued Kelly in 2002 after alleging he filmed them having sex without her knowledge. The bootleg recording was eventually sold as R Kelly Triple-X. He settled the case out of court after paying an undisclosed amount.
Andrea Lee Kelly, Kelly’s ex-wife and the mother of his three children, filed a restraining order against the singer in 2005 after what she described as a “physical altercation (she divorced him a year later). In 2018, Lee went public saying that during her marriage to Kelly he regularly abused her, including hog-tying her to a bed.
In 2018, Kelly was accused of purposely infecting a former sex partner with a sexually transmitted disease. He was not charged and has denied this and all other allegations.
So what could happen next?
In Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has asked that anyone with information about Kelly, especially potential victims, come forward.
Within just the past few days, a Chicago Circuit Court judge granted investigators access to search a building that Kelly converted into a recording studio. The studio, which was mentioned in the Surviving R. Kelly series, is also the source of a lawsuit. The building’s owner claims that Kelly has failed to pay rent. Court records show that the singer owes $167,000 in back rent, which could allow the owner to take back control of the property.
Kelly’s also reportedly being investigated by the Fulton County D.A.’s Office in Georgia over allegations of abuse that surfaced in the recent docuseries. According to The Blast, one of Kelly’s alleged victims, Asante McGee, is working closely with authorities; she even walked through a former mansion owned by Kelly where she described women being held against their will.
The police in Georgia have also ordered Jocelyn Savage to appear for questioning after her family expressed concern that she, too, was being brainwashed and held against her will.
Kelly’s former manager, meanwhile, is also under investigation for supposedly making death threats against the Savage family.
On Monday, attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing several of Kelly’s accusers, held a press conference alleging that Kelly has been trying to intimidate women from coming forward. Allred said when accuser Faith Rodgers came forward last year by filing a lawsuit against Kelly in New York for sexual battery, false imprisonment and “willfully, deliberately and maliciously” infecting her with an STD, Kelly posted photos of Rodgers without her permission and threatened to expose any correspondence of a sexual nature they may have had.
The photos of Rodgers were posted to a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” that was created in response to Surviving R. Kelly. Facebook has since deleted the page.
Could Kelly be charged again?
If authorities in either state find evidence of wrongdoing, or if any credible witnesses come forward, Kelly could be charged with any number of crimes ranging from kidnapping and false imprisonment to sexual battery and sex with underage girls, or even witness intimidation, any of which can carry fines and prison time that vary state to state.
If there were to be a new trial, is it possible to select an unbiased jury in such a high-profile case like this?
If charges are filed against Kelly, prosecutors in either or both states where investigations are currently taking place will need to consider how best to proceed fairly, especially with such a high-profile defendant. As we’ve seen in both the first and second Bill Cosby trials, jurors can be selected either locally or from a different part of the state. In Cosby’s first trial, jurors were selected in Pittsburgh and transported to Philadelphia where there were sequestered for the duration of the trial. In the retrial, jurors were chosen locally, though they, too, remained sequestered during the entirety of the trial.
Cases like these may also sometimes be tried in different municipalities from where the charges are filed. For example, if Kelly is charged in either Atlanta or Chicago, the judge may decide to pursue the trial somewhere else within the state. But given how famous Kelly is both nationally and worldwide, it’s unlikely that a small change in venue would make much of a difference.
Even so, the defense in a case like this would want to consider what type of jurors may be most sympathetic to their famous client, while the prosecution would be looking for jurors who are sympathetic to the evidence rather than the famous face at the defendant’s table. Trial attorneys often consult with jury experts to help determine juror profiles. Each state’s guidelines differ, of course, but attorneys who interview jurors for such a high-profile case like this are still expected to observe all standard trial guidelines. For example, they are generally given a certain number of objections as they seek to eliminate unfavorable jurors. Ideally, each side would want to build a jury with people who are willing to set aside their personal biases to consider the evidence being presented. No matter how diligently prosecutors and defense attorneys work to create a fair and impartial jury, the celebrity factor and ongoing news saturation about the shocking allegations is bound to have an impact, as are other issues, like the public’s increasing awareness about movements like #MeToo and even #MuteRKelly.
Are any other women coming forward now with new accusations?
The attorney’s office in Chicago says it’s been receiving many calls about the case, and that two new women have come forward with claims of sexual misconduct against Kelly this year.
Daniel Williams also said she had a relationship with Kelly for six years starting when she was 16. She recounted being approached by the singer’s business manager in a Chicago restaurant in 1998, and claims that Kelly paid her for sex, asked her to talk like a baby and locked her in a hotel room for three days, but eventually lost interest in her when she matured. “I know that he’s a pedophile,” she said.
Several other women have also gone public, including Rodgers who claimed that Kelly subjected her to cruel and humiliating sexual experiences during their one-year relationship, and later tried to intimidate her into not going to police. Another woman, Jerhonda Pace, said that Kelly had sex with her while she was underage. And Kitti Jones also claimed the singer abused her and forced her into sexual situations with other women.
How has R. Kelly responded to the allegations?
Kelly has repeatedly denied all allegations. Last year, he released a statement equating the allegations to public lynching, saying, “R. Kelly’s music is part of American and African-American culture that should never – and will never – be silenced. Since America was born, black men and women have been lynched for having sex or for being accused of it. We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture”
He also penned a 19-minute song, “I Admit,” in which he doesn’t really admit anything, though he does say, “I admit I done made some mistakes/And I have some imperfect ways.”
Kelly’s also threatened to sue Lifetime, the network that aired Surviving R. Kelly.
In the past year or so, the singer’s longtime lawyer, assistant and publicist quit. Kelly is also reportedly experiencing anxiety over these new allegations; he’s been hospitalized for “panic attacks.”
How is the industry responding?
TMZ reported that Kelly’s label RCA/Sony could be pressing pause on the beleaguered superstar’s career by not recording or releasing any music until any criminal investigations are over. Considering that these investigations, which span two states, are only getting started, it could be years until Kelly sees the inside of a recording studio or fans hear any new music.
The #MuteRKelly movement has also been gaining momentum after issuing an open letter that called on the music industry to cut ties with the singer. The group, led primarily by women of color, said, “We demand appropriate investigations and inquiries into the allegations of R. Kelly’s abuse made by women of color and their families over two decades now.” Famous members include director Ava DuVernay and writer and actor Lena Waithe. Singer John Legend also makes no secret of standing with the women of #TimesUp and #MuteRKelly on his social media.
The companies currently being targeted by #MuteRKelly include but are not limited to: RCA Records, a division of Sony Music (which produced Kelly’s last four albums); Spotify and Apple Music; Live Nation’s Ticketmaster; and concert venues around the country that have and are scheduled to host the singer.
Last year, Spotify removed Kelly’s music from all playlists, but later reposted the songbook after being criticized for censoring him. The company has since reported a spike in Kelly music streams since “Surviving R. Kelly” aired.
Several other celebrities are also breaking ties with Kelly. After Lady Gaga publicly apologized and showed her support for Kelly’s accusers, the song she recorded with him, “Do What U Want (With My Body),” was removed from all streaming services. Celine Dion also pulled her duet with Kelly, “I’m Your Angel,” from streaming services this week.
Artists like Chance the Rapper are also standing up for Kelly’s accusers. He said in a statement, “The truth is any of us who ever ignored the R. Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being setup/attacked by the system (as black men often are) were doing so at the detriment of black women and girls.” He said he now regrets working with Kelly.
Not all musicians are coming out against Kelly, however. Rapper French Montana told TMZ recently that Kelly should be able to enjoy his legacy. “Whatever happened, happened,” he said. A few days later Montana backtracked on social media, saying, “Let me be clear. My heart is with the victims.”
Still many other artists who have been called out for working with Kelly have yet to make any formal statements. Quite a few artists who were asked to participate in “Surviving R. Kelly” declined to appear, including Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige and Dave Chappelle.
Has Kelly’s family responded?
In addition to his ex-wife, Kelly’s daughter, Baku Abi, took to Instagram recently to call her estranged father a “monster.” She said, “To the people who feel that I would be speaking up/against everything is going on right now, I just want you all to understand that devastated is an understatement for what I feel currently.”
She said that her mother and siblings haven’t had any contact with Kelly for many years. “The same monster you all confronting me about is my father,”
she said. “I am well aware of who and what he is. I grew up in that house.”