the r. kelly trial

R. Kelly’s Dastardly World Is on Trial

R. Kelly in 2019. Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

As the second week of testimony in R. Kelly’s Brooklyn federal court trial ended on Thursday, a more detailed portrait of the purported enablers in his alleged sexual abuse of girls and young women emerged. On the one hand, testimony described a circle of staffers and cronies who not only knew about Kelly’s alleged abusiveness, but in some instances facilitated this behavior with relish. On the other hand, testimony presented evidence that some associates enabled him simply by going along with his bizarre behavior, be they motivated by fear or potentially intoxicated by his star power.

Kelly has pleaded not guilty to the nine-count racketeering and sex-crime indictment against him. If convicted, however, this second modus operandi of enabling — the just following orders excuse that often comes up in explaining historic horrors — might better contextualize why his alleged misdeeds went on for so long. Some of these associates have been charged in relation to his alleged crimes but, as Jim DeRogatis’s groundbreaking reporting on Kelly over the years and trial testimony indicates, this network far surpasses the number of people facing criminal charges. At least dozens comprised his circle over the years.

On Monday, a woman who testified under the pseudonym “Jane” said that she met Kelly at an Orlando concert in April 2015, when she was only 17 years old. A member of his entourage gave her a wristband that brought her closer to the stage. She testified: “When he performed his second set, someone from his entourage did come to me and [gave] me a sheet of paper and said, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ It said ‘Rob’ and had a [phone] number.” Not long after, she started communicating with Kelly directly; he invited her to a hotel near Orlando for an “audition.” Kelly allegedly told her to meet him in a van outside the hotel. The two of them were alone and, after about five minutes, someone knocked on the door, telling them it was time to go upstairs.

At one point when they were upstairs in a hotel room, having allegedly engaged in sexual conduct, two police officers knocked on the door. They said that the then-girl’s parents were looking for her. She told them she was okay, and they made her call her parents in front of them. She told them she was 18. They made the teen show them her ID, which said she was 17.

“They left and they had given the defendant a card and said any time he was in Orlando and needed security to let them know,” she said.

She had told Kelly that she was 18. Shortly after that first encounter, Kelly allegedly flew her across the country to locales where he had performances, paying for her hotels and engaging in more illegal sexual behavior. She ultimately stayed in Chicago that summer. As fall approached, and she knew she had to return to school, she told Kelly her true age. Kelly, initially angry, then said they would “figure this out.”

“He said that I [needed] to get on a flight immediately back to Florida and that he would speak with his attorneys to figure out everything,” and about a week later, “he had told me exactly what to do and exactly what his attorneys had said, which was that I would need to be homeschooled and living with him in Chicago.” (Attorneys can be charged criminally for participating in their clients’ misconduct.)

“Both he and I convinced my parents to allow me to be homeschooled and be in Chicago so that I could learn more musically,” she alleged. They got her parents to sign paperwork giving their consent for her to stay with another adult. This person turned out to be the mother of one of his longtime girlfriends. She wound up staying in a relationship with Kelly for another four years.

She said that Kelly “made me crawl back and forth” during encounters and would ejaculate on her face, to shame her.

“There would be times when he would make me leave it on my face,” she testified. Once, “he told me not to wash it off and to let it harden.” Kelly then called an associate to the room and “had an entire conversation with her.”

“I recall them laughing, and I felt very much humiliated,” she alleged.

Another time, after a Kelly crony sent him a text message with her name —and a photo of a rat — he said that she “had 30 seconds to be honest.” Jane said she had been texting with a pal but did not reveal to Kelly the extent of their conversation — namely, that she had talked about her sexual encounters with the singer.

“He began to hit me, and in between it he would ask me, ‘Are you ready to be honest?’” she alleged. Kelly, she said, striking her with an open palm, closed fist, and eventually, a shoe.

She left him in October 2019 — several months after Kelly was hit with federal indictments in New York and Chicago.

On Thursday, a third accuser testified against Kelly. “Stephanie” claimed to have first encountered Kelly in 1998 at a Chicago McDonald’s, at age 16. This restaurant, called the Rock N Roll McDonald’s because it had music memorabilia, was across the street from the pharmacy where Kelly allegedly received his herpes medication. (The building at 600 N. Clark Street was largely demolished in early 2018; a new, “futuristic” McDonald’s is now in the same location.)

She was standing at the register by herself when a man approached her and asked her age. Stephanie said 16. The man pointed at Kelly, who was seated in the booth closest to the register, and asked Stephanie if she knew who he was. Stephanie testified that she said yes. He passed her a piece of paper with Kelly’s phone number, instructing her to call him.

Stephanie, who was with her boyfriend, his best friend, and his girlfriend at the fast-food restaurant, told them about the interaction.

“I threw out his phone number,” she recalled, “because I didn’t intend to talk to him.”

Stephanie ultimately encountered Kelly again in summer 1999, at age 17. She was employed at a hotel and staying part-time with her friend from high school, who wanted to be a singer. A co-worker told her that Kelly was at a nearby Nike store. She headed there, thinking that he might remember her — and that this might help her friend’s career.

Stephanie ran into Kelly as he was leaving. “I asked him if he remembered me, he said ‘yes,’” she testified. She asked him if he would meet her friend. Kelly allegedly invited her into his car to talk, saying, “Yeah, he thought he could arrange that, but also [saying] he’d like to get to know me and also that he likes to cuddle, and would I be okay with that.”

Kelly gave her a phone number, and she went to his studio around a week or two after their chat. When she arrived, someone took her to a room on the second floor. A staffer instructed her “to stay here and wait for him.” The employee departed, and she was by herself.

“I waited there a few hours,” she said. Kelly arrived and sat down next to her, apologizing for the delay. “There was a little bit of chitchat and we had sex that day.”

Kelly initiated the sex, she claimed, and their encounters continued for about six months. Stephanie turned 18 in October that year. Kelly asked Stephanie about her age sometime after their first sexual encounter. While Stephanie was nervous, she told him her true age. “He said it was fine,” she said of his alleged response.

One time during their alleged relationship, they were at a dinner with two local rappers, Gotti and Boo. At the meal, “He mentioned that he likes young girls and that people make such a big deal of it.”

“Even look at Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s a genius, I’m a genius,” she recalled Kelly stating. “We should be allowed to do whatever we want.”

Meanwhile, Kelly’s former studio manager, Tom Arnold, testified this week, describing the star’s rules when it came to staff transporting female guests. He was told to turn up the rearview mirror, to “avoid accidental eye contact” with them. He also said that Kelly’s coterie carried around pieces of paper with his phone number, to distribute to women. He did so “fairly regularly.”
“Rob would ask …” them to distribute these papers at shows, malls, and afterparties.

Two R. Kelly associates also testified about Kelly’s marriage to Aaliyah in 1994, when she was just 15 and he was 27. Demetrius Smith, who started testifying on August 20 and wrapped on Monday, said that he watched them exchange vows in a hotel room. Smith, who had testified last week that he was “concerned” about Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah, said he agreed to play a role in their nuptials because “I wanted to stay in the loop.” Smith testified last week that he bribed a clerk at a welfare office to get Aaliyah a fake ID, as she was too young to legally marry Kelly.

Keith Williams, a longtime friend, said Wednesday that Kelly arrived at his Chicago office one day in the mid-1990s, asking whether he knew a pastor. “He indicated, I believe, that he was gonna get married,” he testified. When asked if Kelly “indicated who he wanted to marry,” Williams replied: “Aaliyah.”

“My assumption was it was gonna be soon,” Williams said. Williams’s testimony did not indicate that he knew Aaliyah’s age.

All of this testimony comes after Kelly’s longtime physician, Dr. Kris McGrath, took the stand last week, providing information about the performer’s herpes diagnosis. (Prosecutors allege that Kelly knowingly exposed sexual partners to herpes, but did not disclose his diagnosis to them.) McGrath said that Kelly, who had insurance, did not pay him during his nearly 20 years of serving as his doctor. McGrath, who testified under a subpoena, said that Kelly did provide him and his wife tickets to his concerts, though, and sometimes paid for travel to out-of-town performances. Sometimes, McGrath went to Kelly’s studio “just to listen to some music that he was proud of or wanted me to hear it.” (McGrath was not the doctor who treated “Jane” after she allegedly contracted herpes from Kelly. When Vulture contacted McGrath’s office, a receptionist said “no comment.”)

On cross-examination, one of Kelly’s attorneys, Nicole Blank Becker, tried to use McGrath’s testimony to undermine claims that there were young girls around. The line of questioning, however, inadvertently supported the idea that nobody thought it important to act upon red flags, nor their responsibility.

“And when you’ve gone to those studios, there’s been, there have been other people there?” she asked. “Men, women, one or other both?”

“Yes, as I recall,” he said.

“Ever see any underage girls there?”

“Not that I recall. I didn’t check their ages,” he replied.

“You didn’t ask them for their license?”


“Not your job when you go there, huh? All right. I apologize,” she stated.

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R. Kelly’s Dastardly World Is on Trial