On August 15, R. Kelly’s second federal trial in less than a year started in a Chicago courtroom. The 55-year-old, who was convicted of racketeering and sex crimes in Brooklyn federal court last September, faces charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors claim that Kelly engaged in sexual activities with five survivors when they were minors and that he recorded these encounters on video. These alleged incidents occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s. (A note about how we’re using alleged and allegedly in covering this trial: Kelly was found guilty in his New York case of one set of crimes, but as his Chicago trial is ongoing, prosecutors’ statements all remain allegations.)
Two of Kelly’s purported co-conspirators, Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, are on trial with him. Prosecutors claim that McDavid and Brown schemed to cover up Kelly’s alleged crimes and assisted him in derailing his 2008 child-pornography trial in Chicago, which concluded with a verdict of “not guilty.” According to the prosecution, some of the alleged attempted cover-ups included the coordination of payouts to accusers as well as to a would-be whistleblower. The prosecution rested its case-in-chief on August 30, and the defense started presenting its case on September 1. McDavid and Brown maintain their innocence. Kelly insists that he’s innocent as well despite his previous conviction. (Kelly was sentenced in New York on June 29 to 30 years in prison.) Here’s what has happened in Kelly’s Chicago trial so far.
Kelly’s former goddaughter testified about alleged abuse.
A woman identified in court as “Jane” testified on August 18 that Kelly had sexually abused her “hundreds” of times when she was a minor. She said that she was the person in a videotape with Kelly that was the subject of his 2008 child-pornography trial in Chicago. Jane said she was 14 when the video was made — which means that Kelly would have been about 30 years old, according to the Associated Press. Jane had refused to testify during Kelly’s 2008 trial, which is what several jurors in that case said made them acquit him. Jane, now 37, said that she’d lied to a state grand jury in 2002 when she claimed that it wasn’t her in the video. “I was afraid something bad would happen to Robert,” Jane reportedly testified. “I was protecting him.” Jane said she’d lied because “I also did not want that person to be me” and “I was ashamed.” When asked why she started to discuss what allegedly happened with Kelly in recent years, Jane reportedly said, “I became exhausted living with his lies.” She told jurors that federal prosecutors said they would not charge her with lying to authorities in the previous case if she testified honestly at this trial, according to the report.
Jurors saw these alleged graphic videos.
On August 19, jurors watched graphic excerpts from three recordings which purportedly showed Kelly sexually abusing Jane, per the Chicago Tribune. The gallery could not see the excerpts but could hear a lot of the audio. Jane’s voice — described by the Tribune as “high and very young-sounding” — referenced her “14-year-old” genitals multiple times. In another clip, Jane used the phrase again, as did the man she had identified as Kelly. Jane was instructed, “Get on your knees,” in one excerpt. “Daddy, do you still love me?” Jane answered. The man Jane alleged was Kelly gave her instructions at various points and at one point remarked, “I said don’t move,” according to the Tribune report.
Three other accusers testified under pseudonyms: “Pauline,” “Tracy,” and “Nia.”
One woman, identified in court as “Pauline,” testified that Jane had introduced her to the singer when she and Jane were both 14. Pauline, now 37, claimed that she once saw Jane naked with Kelly and that he’d encouraged the girls to touch each other sexually, reports said. When she was 15 or 16, Pauline allegedly started having sexual intercourse with Kelly, which would have been illegal given her age, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. A woman identified in court as “Tracy” said she’d met Kelly when she was 16. Tracy, then an intern at Epic Records, testified that they started having sexual encounters not long after they’d met. A woman referred to as “Nia” said that she’d met Kelly at an Atlanta mall in 1996, when she was 15. Nia testified that she’d asked Kelly for his autograph and left their meeting with his phone number. They started speaking on the phone. Nia did wind up telling Kelly her age, the Sun-Times reported of her testimony. She claimed that Kelly arranged for her to attend one of his shows in Minneapolis. The morning following his concert, Nia alleged, Kelly went to the hotel room where she was staying. Kelly allegedly touched her breasts and started to touch himself. Afterward, Kelly “left in a rush,” Nia reportedly testified. Nia stayed with family in Chicago that summer and visited Kelly’s recording studio with her cousins. When she first visited his studio, Nia testified that she went into the hall to see him. Kelly kissed and groped her, Nia reportedly said. A fifth accuser who was expected to testify, “Brittany,” did not. The prosecution did not reveal why she was not called, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Witnesses detailed an alleged cover-up and witness intimidation.
Several witnesses claimed that Kelly and his associates worked hard to keep witnesses from coming forward, multiple reports said. Jane’s mother, identified in court as “Susan,” told jurors her family was afraid of Kelly. When Susan and her husband confronted Kelly in the early 2000s to ask whether he was abusing Jane, he allegedly said, “You are with us or against us,” USA Today reported. “We were very, very frightened,” Susan reportedly testified. Susan admitted that she and her family had lied in advance of Kelly’s 2008 trial, claiming at the time that Jane wasn’t the female in the tape. Kelly and his confidants told the family to lie to the grand jury. They agreed, because “we feared for our lives,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
Lisa Van Allen, one of Kelly’s ex-girlfriends, said that she was threatened for taking sex tapes from the singer. Van Allen, who also took the stand against Kelly in his 2008 trial, said she took the videos when Kelly left his things unattended, according to USA Today. One of these recordings was of her, Kelly, and Jane participating in sexual activity. Van Allen claimed she didn’t know that Jane was 14. Van Allen alleged that, in 2007, McDavid told her that a polygraph indicated she was lying about returning these videos. “He said that I failed [the lie-detector] and that they should have murked me from the beginning,” Van Allen reportedly testified.
Charles Freeman, a former merchandising agent for Kelly, said that Kelly had offered him $1 million to retrieve the tape that allegedly showed him abusing Jane, USA Today reported. Freeman said he’d found the tape in a Chicago residence. Kelly and his circle took years to pay him the promised fee in its entirety. Freeman claimed to have seen the tape and that it was of “Robert Kelly with a young lady having sex.” Freeman said he didn’t give police the recording for almost 20 years, “because the police wasn’t going to pay me a million dollars,” the newspaper reported.
The defense started its case.
Defense attorneys in the case started calling their witnesses on September 1. One of the defense witnesses included Christopher Wilson, a former Chicago Police Department detective who said he was a longtime friend of McDavid. According to CBS News, Wilson said in 2001 McDavid “informed me that Mr. Kelly was being blackmailed.” Wilson testified that McDavid wanted him to go with a private investigator to interview the suspected extortionist. While Wilson didn’t identify the blackmailer, the chronology and prior trial testimony suggested that he was referring to Freeman. Wilson said he wasn’t around when the private detective questioned this suspect. He also claimed that nobody indicated that the potential blackmail situation involved child pornography, per CBS. Wilson’s testimony about alleged blackmail reflects a key element of Kelly’s defense. During openings, Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, told the jury to consider whether he was a victim “of financial exploitation, extortion.” Bonjean reportedly said: “There are strong motivators out there” and “The government’s case really does hinge on the testimony of liars, extortionists, people who engaged in the business of trafficking pornography.” While McDavid claimed he would testify in his own defense, Kelly and Brown said they would not. It’s not surprising that Kelly and Brown won’t testify, given it is uncommon for criminal defendants to take the stand.