the r. kelly trial

The Worst Things That Happened at the R. Kelly Trial This Week

Kelly in 2019. Photo: r

Prosecutors in R. Kelly’s Brooklyn federal-court trial are nearly done with their racketeering and sex-crimes case against the R&B singer. They have called 45 witnesses, 11 of whom are abuse accusers. Their last witness, psychologist Dawn Hughes, took the stand Friday afternoon to explain that victims of interpersonal violence may stay with and go back to their abusers — and that returning to one’s abuser doesn’t negate victimhood. Prosecutors finished their direct questioning of Hughes; the defense will start cross-examination Monday morning.

Although today marks the near conclusion of the prosecution’s case, it already feels wrapped up, following a fifth week of testimony that seemed largely repetitive: Witnesses backed up what prior witnesses had to say, including previous testimony about Kelly’s mercurial and mean-spirited behavior both as a boss and, generally, as a person. The mood of the ending was more confetti cracker-pop than the proper bang one might expect from closing arguments in the near future.

There were a few exceptions.

R. Kelly allegedly threatened a colleague so she would back him during a lawsuit, warning her, “Generally, in these situations, people come up missing,” the woman testified Friday. The colleague, Cheryl Mack, said that she met Kelly in 2005.

Mack, then a talent manager, was in Miami to attend events surrounding MTV’s Video Music Awards. She and a client were at a restaurant when a man approached them and said, “You look pretty important.” Mack responded that she was a talent agent. She told the man that her client (age not known) could sing, and the man said: “I want to introduce you to someone.”

He eventually led them to the back of the restaurant. “That was when he introduced my artist to Mr. Kelly,” Mack said. “She sang a song for Mr. Kelly. She did amazing.” Kelly asked the artist to sing another song, and then another. “Let me help you,” Kelly told them. He gave Mack his phone number and told her “just keep trying until I answer.”

“He said she was amazing,” Mack recalled. Mack called Kelly and she and her client traveled to Chicago. They went to Kelly’s home studio at his Olympia Fields, Illinois, property. Her client wound up singing with Kelly on his album, and Mack testified that she introduced more of her clients to Kelly over the years. One of those clients was Precious, an R&B singer from Atlanta. Mack introduced Precious to Kelly in 2009, when she was 17 years old.

“I had a discussion with him about her talent. ‘She [is] talented, would you be interested in meeting her?’ He agreed.” Mack, Precious, and the teen’s mom traveled from Atlanta to Chicago, as Kelly had agreed to let them use one of the studios at his Olympia Fields home. One of Kelly’s associates paid for their trip. Precious ended up returning to Chicago and stayed at a hotel near Kelly’s house, Mack said.

Prosecutors asked Mack whether Precious stopped working for Kelly and whether it was an “abrupt” split. “Yes,” Mack said.

“Did you speak to the defendant about why Precious had left?” prosecutors asked.

“It was all sudden. He told me that I need[ed] to come to Chicago,” she said. “Everything happened so fast. He told me that she was trying to file a lawsuit and I needed to pick a team.”

Mack traveled to Kelly’s Olympia Fields home. “He explained to me that Precious had filed a lawsuit and it was right around him going to the World Cup, [that] it was important, and told me I need to pick a team.” Kelly performed at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, which puts his interactions with Precious sometime between her initial work with him in 2009 and around 2010.

“Generally, in these situations, people come up missing,” Kelly allegedly remarked. “I took it as a threat,” Mack testified.

Mack learned that the suit was “something along the lines of sexual harassment.” They ultimately moved their discussion into a room at Kelly’s home with a pool table. After some time, Kelly’s former studio manager, Tom Arnold, directed Mack to a car. She got in but didn’t know where they were going. Arnold drove her to the office of Kelly’s then-attorney, Ed Gensen.

There was an affidavit on the table, which they asked her to sign. She said she barely glanced at the questions, but remembered one was “Did I ever see Mr. Kelly give [Precious] alcohol?”, and another was “Did I ever see them [having] sex].” Mack didn’t remember whether she circled “yes” or “no” to the questions on the affidavit, but said she did sign it. After she signed the paperwork, Arnold took her to the airport.

Mack and Kelly started working together again in 2013. Mack’s then-boss, talent manager Devyne Stephens, wanted to “do something different.” Stephens thought they could get Kelly “off the bench,” performing more frequently than he was. Mack began working with Kelly through her agency, but Kelly quickly hired Mack to be his executive assistant.

Mack said she coordinated Kelly’s travel and that of his entourage, including the singer’s girlfriends. Mack met Jane — who testified that Kelly first sexually abused her at age 17 — in April 2015. Jane left Kelly in fall of 2019.

In July 2015, after his concert at a Connecticut casino, Mack said that she, Kelly’s stylist Kash Howard, and Jane were in Kelly’s dressing room with him. She saw Jane sidle up to Kelly, who was reclining on an ottoman. “I just saw her move in closer.”

“That was kind of my cue to leave,” she said.

Mack said she saw Jane move her head down. When asked by the judge whether this was near Kelly’s lap, Mack said, “In that area.”

“That was my exit. I was very uncomfortable, that wasn’t my business.”

The next day, Mack was at a McDonald’s with Kelly and members of his entourage. He started berating her for spoiling his stylist’s surprise birthday party, even pounding the table.

“For whatever reason, he just started cursing me and ultimately said I need to apologize to the guest,” Mack said, referring to Jane.  “And in that moment, I quit.”

Earlier this week, a woman who accused R. Kelly of sexual abuse as an underage teenager claimed that she saw him performing oral sex on Aaliyah when the singer was a young teen. The accuser said Monday she witnessed this in 1992 or 1993, when Aaliyah would’ve been only 13 or 14 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. Kelly illegally wed Aaliyah when she was just 15, and he was 27, according to trial testimony.

Angela, who was the tenth accuser to take the stand, said she met Kelly in 1991, when she was about 14 or 15 years old. Tiffany, Angela’s then-friend, brought her to a party at Kelly’s apartment in Chicago. Kelly and several of his pals were present, as well as some other young females, and they were all joking around in the living room. At some point, Kelly went into another room. One after one, the young ladies would eventually join Kelly. When Angela entered the room, there were “three other young ladies” in there. One was taking off her clothes, and another was removing her shirt.

“He asked me to climb on top of him,” Angela stated. “I paused for a moment. I was a little startled.” But Angela ultimately decided to do “as he asked me to do.”

“The defendant asked me to straddle him and to ride him. I asked if I could grab a condom,” she testified, remarking that she was “between 14 and 15” years old at the time. Kelly claimed he didn’t have a condom; Angela told him that she had one.

“After that, I proceeded to put the condom on the gentleman and straddled him.” Kelly penetrated Angela. At one point, Kelly purportedly touched one of the other female’s breasts, and placed his mouth on another’s, touching the third female’s genital area. Before Angela left Kelly’s apartment, he invited her and Tiffany back. Angela claimed she hung out with Kelly “every day for quite a few years.” They had multiple sexual encounters when she was a minor, she alleged.

Angela, who was an aspiring singer at the time, claimed that she left high school after Kelly told her that she could either attend school or perform. She was a backup dancer on one of Kelly’s tours sometime around 1992 or 1993.  She claimed to have met Aaliyah in 1992, with Kelly telling her the girl was “was the next up-and-coming artist, the next hottest wave out of Detroit.” He introduced Angela to Aaliyah on the artist’s 13th birthday. Aaliyah was born on January 16, 1979.

“He told her that we were going to be her background [singers] as well,” Angela said. “He told her that we were going to be her street vibe and that we were going to be there to be her friends as well.”

Angela alleged that she saw Kelly sexually abuse Aaliyah on his tour bus. Angela said that she and another young female were goofing around. Kelly, she said, enjoyed practical jokes. So Angela and the other female decided to toss some water on him. They went to the back of his tour bus, to the bedroom. Angela cracked open the door.

“I saw Robert and Aaliyah in a sexual situation,” she alleged. “It appeared that he had his head in between her legs and was giving her oral sex.” Aaliyah was sitting upright on a seat. Kelly, she said, was on his knees.

“I closed the door abruptly and pushed the girl behind me away from the door.” Angela stated that she did not discuss this with Kelly. She claimed to have stopped working for him in the mid-1990s.

The second male accuser to testify, Alex, said that he met Kelly in 2007, at age 16. Alex said that a then-friend, Louis, introduced him to Kelly. Louis was the first male accuser to publicly allege that Kelly sexually abused him; he claims this abuse started at age 17. Alex said his first sexual encounter with Kelly took place when Alex was 20 years old. He claimed that Kelly pressured him into unwanted sexual activity, such as encounters with women while the R&B singer watched. Alex said that he also had sexual encounters with Kelly.

The prosecution also presented recordings to jurors on Wednesday, but they were shown and published only to jurors and parties in the case. Neither the press nor the public watching Kelly’s trial in a viewing room were able to see or hear any of it. A court filing submitted Tuesday indicated that prosecutors planned on playing recordings that “show the defendant physically and verbally abusing and threatening females.” But it’s not known with certainty what exactly jurors saw or heard, since nobody outside the courtroom could see or hear them. Kelly did not put on his headphones while these recordings were played. These headphones would have enabled him to hear the recordings.

A woman in one of these recordings, referred to as “Jane Doe #20” in court filings, was going to testify, but prosecutors decided against it because of her anxiety. They wrote that “after the government played the audio recording for Jane Doe #20 and Jane Doe #20 traveled to New York to prepare for her testimony, she started to have panic attacks and appeared to have an emotional breakdown. For the sake of her mental health, the government advised Jane Doe #20 that it would not call her as a witness at the trial.”

This post has been updated throughout.

More From This Series

See All
The Worst Things That Happened at R. Kelly’s Trial This Week