BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – R. Kelly pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a new Brooklyn indictment that charges the rapper with paying bribes so that Aaliyah, the hip-hop ingenue who died in a 2001 plane crash, could get a fake ID to marry him when she was just 15.
Kelly, famous for such hits as “Ignition” and “I Believe I Can Fly,” appeared at the brief hearing via videoconference from jail in Chicago where he awaits trial on separate federal charges.
The courtroom television screen faced U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly, but reporters were told Kelly wore an orange jumpsuit. He spoke in a loud, clear voice, calling Donnelly “ma’am.”
Brooklyn prosecutors added the bribery charge earlier this month. Kelly already faced racketeering charges here as well as exploitation of a child, kidnapping, forced labor, and violations of the federal Mann Act.
The alleged bribe took place in Illinois on or around Aug. 30, 1994. The following day, the Cook County Clerk’s Office issued a marriage license that listed Kelly as the groom as Kelly and the bride as Aaliyah Haughton. Though Kelly’s age is properly listed as 27 on the certificate, Aaliyah is listed as 18.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Kelly’s New Jersey lawyer Doug Anton said of the new charge after Wednesday’s hearing.
Speaking to Kelly’s professed illiteracy, Anton also said the musician may be a “musical genius” but wouldn’t know how to get a fake ID if he were given a million dollars.
Kelly’s Chicago attorney Steve Greenberg entered Wednesday’s plea on his behalf via videoconference.
Anton said afterward that his client remains hopeful as he awaits trial behind bars, and that he continues to write music, in notes that he passes to acquaintances. Kelly was not granted bail in either Chicago or Brooklyn.
“His lyric writing has certainly been affected by this,” Anton said, adding that Kelly’s latest are “uplifting” works are about his journey through the system, as well as man’s and woman’s journey through life.
A person familiar with the case said that Aaliyah is Jane Doe 1 in the new indictment. Kelly had been a mentor to the singer in her early teen years and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain't Nothing but a Number.” She was 22 when she died.
Kelly’s attorneys say they don’t know the identities of two of the other Jane Does. At proceedings earlier this month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes said the government had good reason to keep the identities of the two Does confidential, though the defense team says it can’t prepare without the information. The parties have set a briefing schedule to discuss the issue.
R. Kelly was arrested in Chicago in July on both the Chicago and Brooklyn charges. He also faces state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.
“He’s keeping himself healthy, in shape,” Anton said. “Our position is we have no doubt he’s going to get through this.”
Kelly dodged questions about his relationship with Aaliyah and their reported marriage in an extensive 2016 interview with G.Q.
“Well, because of Aaliyah's passing, as I've always said, out of respect for her mother who's sick and her father who's passed, I will never have that conversation with anyone,” he said, maintaining that they had loved each other and were best friends.
A federal trial in Chicago is set for April 27. The Brooklyn trial is scheduled to kick off May 18, with the prosecution estimating it will take about three weeks.
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