the r. kelly trial

R. Kelly’s Tour Manager Was ‘Concerned’ About Aaliyah Relationship But Didn’t Stop It

R. Kelly’s sex crimes trial resumed on Monday, continuing testimony from his former road manager, Demetrius Smith. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Getty Images

As testimony in R. Kelly’s Brooklyn federal court sex-crimes trial came to an end for the week on Friday afternoon, more details emerged about how Kelly allegedly controlled his inner circle using their devotion, with the purported aim of preying on girls and women. Testimony from Kelly’s former road manager, Demetrius Smith, reflected an obligation to Kelly despite his deep reservations over the R&B star’s alleged sexual relationship with Aaliyah when she was in her early teens and he was in his mid-to-late 20s.

Indeed, Smith’s description of his involvement with Kelly’s alleged plan to wed Aaliyah when she was 15 — because of a pregnancy scare — apparently boiled down to simple, serviceable loyalty. Kelly asked Smith “which side” he was on, Smith recalled; he chose Kelly’s side, whatever concerns he had subsumed by this notion of siding. And Smith didn’t just go along with it — he was an active participant.

Smith’s continued commitment to Kelly was  apparent in court.

“I don’t want to be here, period,” Smith said when it was time for him to take the witness stand. (Smith was subpoenaed to testify; because he said he would take the fifth, over concerns of self-incrimination, Smith was granted immunity from prosecution — except for crimes such as obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, and perjury. He previously spoke in the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.)

“You’re in good company, a lot of people don’t,” Judge Ann Donnelly said. “The bottom line is you have to testify.”

“I didn’t [do anything] to be prosecuted for, so why would I testify? Period,” said Smith, whose behavior ranged from combative to somewhat taunting during his time in court.

Smith, who worked for Kelly from 1984 and 1996, said he was blown away by Kelly’s perfect work when they met. At the beginning, Smith said, “I just wanted to be someone he could look up to.” As Kelly’s career picked up, Smith said, “I just wanted him to be comfortable.”

In 1992, after Kelly’s career had taken off, the singer’s then-manager, Barry Hankerson, told him and Smith about his niece in Detroit, Aaliyah Dana Haughton. Hankerson wanted them to hear her sing, so they traveled to Michigan and went to the Haughton’s house.

“She was very shy,” Smith said of Aaliyah. Kelly went to the piano and brought “angelic  stuff out of her.”

“Don’t she have something special?” they both thought. Aaliyah and her parents wound up traveling to Chicago, so she and Kelly could work together. She had just turned 13.

Prosecutors asked: Did they socialize outside the studio?  Were they ever alone together?

“Yes, we all socialized,” Smith said. “If Robert wanted to be alone with Aaliyah, it was all about the music.”

What did Kelly say about needing to be alone with Aaliyah?

“To work on her vocals. He would say he needs to spend time with her,” Smith said.

Smith was then asked whether he ever had a conversation with Kelly about his relationship with Aaliyah. There was a long pause.

“I thought that they were playful and at times. I was concerned,” he said, remembering that he’d asked: “Robert, everything cool with you and Aaliyah?”

“I just thought they were over-playful,” he continued, also recalling that he had asked: “Robert, are you messing with Aaliyah or anything? He’d say ‘no.’”

“I didn’t want people to have the wrong vision of things,” Smith said of his inquiries.

Smith said he didn’t assume anything was up, but then conceded: “They were more than friends from the very beginning.”

Kelly’s involvement with Aaliyah took an even more disturbing tour when he was on tour in 1994. Shortly before Kelly was to perform one night, he remarked that “Aaliyah was in trouble.”

After the show, they headed to the airport and boarded a plane back to Chicago. Smith described Kelly’s demeanor as “quiet.”

“She thinks she’s pregnant,” Smith recalls Kelly saying.

Kelly said that one of his confidants was “making arrangements for him to marry Aaliyah … to protect himself [and] to protect Aaliyah.” The idea behind this was that if Aaliyah were married to Kelly, she couldn’t testify against him.

Smith told Kelly that just bcecause Aaliyah said she was pregnant “doesn’t mean she’s pregnant.”

“He was crying a lot. He was crying,” Smith said. “I told him that he couldn’t marry Aaliyah, that she was too young.”

“He was confused. He said, ‘which side was I on?’”

Smith wound up playing an integral role in the illicit nuptials. Shortly after arriving in Chicago, they went to a hotel where Aaliyah was in a room. He didn’t like what was going on, but felt like he would be pushed out of Kelly’s circle.

“I wanted to stay in the loop.”

Smith said he would get Aaliyah a fake ID, because she couldn’t marry at her age. Smith figured someone in a welfare office would give an ID card in exchange for some cash, using a “hey, wanna make some money” approach. He drove to the welfare office, with Kelly and Aaliyah in a car behind him.

They found an obliging clerk. “I made her an offer, she took the money; I gave her 500 bucks,” he said. Eventually, they made their way to a city clerk’s office, where Kelly and Aaliyah got a marriage license. He was 27 and she 15.

“I’m uncomfortable talking constantly about Aaliyah,” Smith snapped shortly after describing the marriage plot. “Her parents aren’t here, and I don’t want to understand why I gotta do that.”

Smith’s most fervent expression of remorse seemed to come Monday morning, when the trial resumed.

“That shouldn’t have happened. That was wrong. I shouldn’t be talking about [Aaliyah], she’s not here,” he said.

Another R. Kelly associate testified on Wednesday at his Brooklyn federal court trial about the singer’s marriage to Aaliyah, who died 20 years ago to the day.

Keith Williams said that a person in his church introduced him to Kelly, before he got signed. “We’ve been friends for a long time,” he said.

“Did you ever have an opportunity to meet people in the defendant’s inner circle?” the prosecution asked.

“I met a number of people,” Williams said.

“Are you familiar with an individual named Barry Hankerson?” prosecutors asked, referring to Kelly’s former manager, who was also Aaliyah’s uncle.

“Yes,” he said.

“Are you familiar with an individual named Aaliyah?”

She’s “the entertainer who died a tragic death.”

“What was their relationship?”

“I’m told that they were married … it was referenced in the public.”

He said he believed that Hankerson and Aaliyah were “blood relatives.”
Williams, who worked as a mortgage broker in the mid-1990s, was then asked whether Kelly ever visited him at his office. He said “yes,” and then was asked to provide information on what happened during this visit.

“He indicated, I believe, that he was gonna get married.”

Prosecutors asked whether Kelly “indicated who he wanted to marry.”


Williams testified that there were a number of people with Kelly, including Smith. The prosecution asked Williams what Kelly said to him.

“He asked if I knew a minister.” Williams said “yes,” and gave him the name of a clergyman.

Williams said he didn’t recall whether he had called the minister, and that Kelly didn’t specify when the marriage was going to take place. But, he said, “My assumption was it was gonna be soon.”

Williams became emotional on the stand when he was asked about his own criminal woes. In the early 2000s, he was convicted of bank fraud and perjury. Kelly floated the idea of Williams working with him.

“When I got in trouble, Robert offered to give me a job,” he said, breaking into tears. Williams said he did not wind up working for Kelly.

During his brief cross-examination, Kelly defense attorney Deveraux Cannick asked: “Mr. Williams, do you recall occasions when Robert would call you crying?”

Williams answered “yes.” Prosecutors objected, and that line of questioning ended.

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

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