CHICAGO (CN) — Federal prosecutors in Chicago rested their case against 55-year-old former R&B star R. Kelly on Tuesday, less than halfway through the trial's third week.
Kelly is already serving 30 years in federal prison for a 2021 sex trafficking conviction in Brooklyn, but the U.S. attorney's office has levied 13 more charges against him in Chicago. The counts range from dealing in child pornography to obstruction of justice to sexual coercion of minors.
To support this lengthy list of accusations, prosecutors called almost two dozen witnesses to the stand after delivering their opening statements on Aug. 17. Their star witnesses consisted of four women who say they were sexually abused by Kelly as minors in the late 1990s.
These women – referred to by the pseudonyms Jane, Tracy, Pauline and Nia to protect their identities – all said they had some form of sexual contact with Kelly prior to turning 17, the legal age of consent in Illinois. Jane and Pauline both said they participated in numerous threesomes and videotaped sex scenes with the singer between the ages of 14 and 16, while Kelly was in his early 30s.
Early in the trial, jurors were played snippets of one of these videotaped sex scenes allegedly featuring Kelly and Jane.
Nia, who testified Tuesday morning before the prosecution rested, said Kelly masturbated on her in a hotel room in Minneapolis when she was 15 in 1996.
Tracy, who testified on Monday, brought the most serious allegations. She claimed that Kelly raped her in a Chicago hotel room while she was 16 in 1999.
Noticeably absent from the list of alleged abuse victims who testified was a woman going by Brittany, whom both Jane and Pauline said participated in their threesomes with Kelly, and whom prosecutors said in their opening arguments would appear in court. She never did. The prosecution offered no explanation for her absence.
The given pseudonym for Pauline also changed over the course of their trial, as prosecutors initially said she would be called Pinky.
Besides the four alleged victims, the prosecution also called to the stand several individuals who were connected to the alleged sex tapes featuring Jane, which leaked publicly in 2001. Most prominent were a woman named Lisa Van Allen, who said she participated in videotaped threesomes with Kelly and Jane, and a man named Charles Freeman, who claimed to have helped recover the tapes after they leaked.
Unlike Jane, Van Allen said she was already a legal adult when the threesomes took place. She told the jury last Thursday that after learning Jane was 14 when the trio began having sex in 1998, not 16 as she believed, her attitude toward the arrangement changed.
"I was told that she was 16 two years prior to ... I didn't want any more [sexual] encounters with Jane," after that, Van Allen said Thursday.
She told the jury that when she had a moment alone in Kelly's Chicago recording studio in 2001, she took a tape with several threesome scenes out of his personal duffel bag. She says she sent the tape to her friend Keith Murrell, a former artist in the music group Talent, in Kansas City.
"I didn't want him watching it," Van Allen said, adding. "I sent it to Keith in Kansas City... I wanted to get it out of my possession."
Van Allen's testimony intertwines with that of Freeman, an associate of Murrell also from Kansas City. Freeman said last Tuesday that he was hired in 2001 by Kelly's now-deceased private investigator Jack Palladino, as well Kelly's former manager and current co-defendant Derrel McDavid, to recover some tapes Kelly had lost. Freeman said he was familiar with Kelly after having worked in merchandising on several of the singer's music tours in the early-mid 90s, and that he agreed to help recover the tapes in exchange for $1 million.
"Derrel [McDavid] said it was a performance tape they really needed to recover," Freeman said. If he got it back, Freeman added, McDavid said they "would take care of me."
Besides making a copy of Murrell's alleged tape on his cellphone, Freeman also told the jury he had found another tape in a house in Atlanta. Freeman said this tape featured "Robert Kelly with a young lady, having sex, urinating on her and putting lotion on her face."
Van Allen, despite moving to Atlanta from Chicago after sending Murrell her own tape, denied ever leaking any sex scenes there. Further complicating matters, Jane testified on Aug. 18 that she believed it was her aunt Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards who leaked one of her and Kelly's sex tapes to the public by providing it to former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis.
Kelly's own attorneys, as well as the attorneys for McDavid and third co-defendant Milton Brown, have thus far relied on the complexity of these varying accounts to build their clients' defense. Both McDavid and Brown, Kelly's former personal assistant, are accused of helping Kelly cover up the leak of his sex tapes in 2001. McDavid is also accused of helping to silence Kelly's accusers prior to his 2008 state trial in Cook County on 21 child porn counts.
Throughout the trial, Kelly's lead defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean has pointed numerous occasions where the four alleged victims' testimony - as well as that of Van Allen's - over the past few weeks has not matched up with information they provided to investigators on prior occasions.
Tracy, for example, testified Monday that Kelly raped her after she met him at a Black Women's Expo in Chicago in 1999, but affidavits attached to a civil lawsuit Tracy filed against Kelly in 2001 state that the Expo took place in 2000. Similarly, Jane and her father both denied to an Illinois grand jury that it was her in the alleged sex tape prior to Kelly's 2008 state trial.
Pauline also had no qualms telling Bonjean that she lied in prior testimony to state and federal investigators. She said Monday that she lied about the extent of her sexual involvement with Kelly to a 2002 Illinois grand jury in order to protect herself and her mother.
"I sure did [lie]... because I wasn't going to admit that in front of my mom, for anybody, period," Pauline said.
Highlighting these inconsistencies and occasional outright lies feeds into an argument Bonjean laid out in her opening statements on Aug. 17, in which she characterized Kelly's accusers as extortionists and clout-chasers hoping to materially benefit from a man already at his lowest point. She pointed out that many of the prosecution's witnesses had received immunity deals in exchange for their cooperation in this trial, and that some, like Freeman, claimed to have unapologetically traded in child porn in order to get $1 million out of Kelly.
"The government's case really does rely on the testimony of liars, extortionists... people who, if you believe the government's case, deal in sex trafficking," Bonjean said.
She and the rest of the defense team will begin fleshing out their own case starting Thursday, as Senior U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, a Ronald Reagan appointee, decided to suspend court on Wednesday in order to let them prepare. Defense attorneys said Tuesday that they should be able rest their case by the middle of next week.Follow @@djbyrnes1
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