In his life, R. Kelly has probably regretted nothing more than the video he had recorded 23 years ago. The 26-minute, 39-second tape follows the R&B superstar at the time having a sexual encounter with a very, very young girl. In the criminal trial in his hometown of Chicago, in which the fifty-five-year-old has to defend himself against allegations of sexual assault on minors, child pornography and obstruction of justice, Robert Sylvester Kelly, as the singer is called bourgeois, could now bring in the next guilty verdict. If prosecutors can convince the jury to recognize R. Kelly and the then 14-year-old “Jane” in the grossly pixelated video, he could face another decade in prison. Last June, a federal court in the New York borough of Brooklyn sentenced the fallen Grammy award winner to 30 years behind bars for sexual abuse, human trafficking and bribery.
Allegations have been around for decades
Although the video has occupied the judiciary for more than 20 years, it remains unclear how it was released from the so-called log cabin playroom in R. Kelly’s former Chicago home. As the American music critic and journalist Jim DeRogatis recalled in an interview with the FAZ after the indictment against the singer, the recording was leaked to him in 2001. After weeks of research, DeRogatis previously published an article about R. Kelly’s assaults in the Chicago Sun-Times. The singer, he wrote, repeatedly sent his entourage to schools and malls to approach young African American women.
DeRogatis also came across two sexual abuse allegations at the time. R. Kelly, whose track “The World’s Greatest” meanwhile was on the playlist of every radio station between New York and Los Angeles, had managed to smother the allegations with six-figure sums. A criminal case for child pornography, which caught up with the singer and producer in 2008, ended in an acquittal. The roughly pixelated video was shown to the jury at the time. 14-year-old “Jane,” who was allegedly caught on the tape engaging in sexual activity with R. Kelly, did not testify. Rumors arose that the singer had sent his alleged victim and his parents to the south of France for a few weeks to avoid appearing in court.
Hundreds of abuses
Everything is different in the second criminal trial in Chicago, which began three weeks ago in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. After allegations of abuse against the former world star – fueled by the MeToo movement and the film documentary “Surving R. Kelly” – boiled up again in early 2019, dozens of women contacted a prosecutor’s hotline in Cook County. Four witnesses agreed to testify against their alleged tormentor. They now told the jury how, when they were minors, R. Kelly first persuaded them to engage in sexual activity, first through attention and then through humiliation, always with him, often with other female or male victims as well.
“Jane”, now 37, testified that she was the girl who was caught having sex with R. Kelly in the Log Cabin Playroom video. In some scenes the singer urinated on “Jane”, in others he gave her money after satisfying his sexual fantasies. She reported hundreds of abuses by R. Kelly, her then 30-year-old godfather, who let her call him “daddy”. When cross-examined by Jennifer Bonjean, the singer’s defense attorney, “Jane” admitted to having sex with R. Kelly after her 18th birthday. When Bonjean asked if she had maintained a close relationship with him after the relationship ended in 2010, she replied “yes”. When filmmaker Dream Hampton screened her documentary Surving R. Kelly three years ago, “Jane” texted him with concern. “I love you,” she confessed. “Don’t let the devil win.”
Questions about video recording
Last Thursday, the defense began its presentation in federal court with a riposte. Her client, lawyer Bonjean let the jury know, was not the perpetrator but the victim. Former acquaintances have repeatedly tried to blackmail R. Kelly with videos of sexual encounters. The singer, meanwhile, stated that he did not want to testify. His co-accused former employee Milton “June” Brown also does not take the witness stand. Only Derrel McDavid, in better days the manager of the fallen Grammy award winner and now also in the dock, said he wanted to testify.
Defense strategy? cast doubt on the credibility of the witnesses and question the authenticity of the video. Process observers like the lawyer Tony Thedford point to the still unclear origin of the much-discussed tape. “The prosecution has the video. What can be seen on it can be seen on it. But where does it come from?” the criminal lawyer hinted at possible manipulations in the “Chicago Sun-Times”. A former friend of the singer, Charles Freeman, said he found the video in a home in Atlanta, Georgia, while trying to destroy possible evidence on R. Kelly’s behalf before the 2008 criminal trial. The fact that Freeman made copies of the recording and sued his former boss at least twice when he didn’t pay him the promised reward at least leaves room for interpretation. Assistant US Attorney Jason Julien may have to come up with something before closing arguments are expected this week.