On Tuesday, Charles Freeman told jurors a wild story about how R. Kelly and his associates allegedly agreed to pay him up to $1 million in the early 2000s to track down videotapes of the R&B singer sexually assaulting a young teenage girl.
But that report came under damning scrutiny within minutes of Wednesday’s cross-examination, with a lawyer for Kelly’s co-defendant, Derrel McDavid, painting Freeman as a liar and opportunist who has made several conflicting statements about the conspiracy over the years.
“People who lie, people who cheat, people who take advantage of others for money, those are people whose word is hard to trust, agreed?” Brindley asked sharply at the beginning of his interrogation, his hands folded gloomily before him.
Freeman said, “Okay.”
Brindley spent nearly three hours questioning Freeman about the motives behind his alleged search for R. Kelly tapes, at one point suggesting that it was Freeman himself who “tried to take down or extort Mr. Kelly for money.” .”
“What happened between you and Derrel McDavid was that after you tried to get this money from Mr. Kelly, McDavid told you very explicitly that if it were up to him, you wouldn’t get a cent?” asked Brindley. Freeman said that wasn’t true.
The judges seem to be paying close attention. When asking his most pointed questions, Brindley often looked to jurors sitting in the courtroom—not Freeman.
Freeman has told his version of the two-decade-old events several times in recent years, including at least three under oath: before a Cook County grand jury, in an affidavit before a federal grand jury, and now at Kelly’s trial.
All those accounts differ from each other, some in important respects, and Brindley pressed him on the discrepancies with increasing excitement. The varied inconsistencies include where Freeman first learned where the tape was, how many tapes he took, when he heard what was on the tape, and who was involved in the initial conversations about getting it.
Brindley grew louder and livelier as the questions progressed – pointing his finger in the air and placing his hands on his hips. But across the room on the witness stand, Freeman kept a smile on his face. Every now and then he chuckled, sat back and took a sip of iced tea.
In another focused series of questions, Brindley Freeman asked if it was true that McDavid called Freeman “a thief and a liar” and said and if it were up to him, you could (expletively) go yourself.
“No, he never said that to me,” Freeman replied.
Brindley also asked if Freeman “feels totally bad for the things you’ve done,” including copying and possessing alleged child pornography for years without telling the police.
“I’ve never tried to get money for something bad,” Freeman replied. “I was helping a friend.”
As the cross-examination progressed, many of the previously alert jurors seemed to lose focus, some staring into space.
Towards the end of his questioning, Brindley asked if Freeman noticed a “pattern” — his earlier statements don’t mention McDavid’s presence at certain meetings, but his testimony in the lawsuit did, Brindley noted, “Now Derrel McDavid is popping up! “
And Brindley concluded his interrogation by mentioning Freeman’s immunity deal, which protects him from all but perjury.
“After what we’ve just been through together, Mr. Freeman, I suppose you must be very nervous about your future prosecution, right?” he asked.
“No,” Freeman replied.
After approximately four hours of interrogation by Brindley, Kelly’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean began cross-examination to Freeman, in an attempt to portray him as a con artist, liar, and schemer. It’s unlikely Kelly would approach someone like Freeman to make such a big request, she suggested.
“At that time, Mr. Kelly was quite successful, rich, had a lot of success in his career,” Bonjean noted. “(Of) all the people in the world he could find to help him get these tires, is a thief doing merchandising for him? … You were part of a shakedown schedule, right?” she asked.
When questioned by Bonjean about significant differences between Freeman’s version of events before the Cook County grand jury and at this trial, Freeman again denied being inconsistent. These events were 20 years ago, so he did his best to piece it together, he said, and on top of that, the people who put together his signed statement to the Cook County grand jurors “mixed things up.”
Freeman, who was colorful and loose during direct questioning on Tuesday, is a key witness to the crux of the charge alleging a conspiracy to cover up Kelly’s sexual misconduct. Defense attorneys described him in opening statements last week as a con man, blackmailer and criminal.
Brindley also spent much of his time questioning Freeman about his February 2019 affidavit before a Cook County jury, who said he “find out who took the tape by calling some of Rob’s employees who heard that a man had a videotape and showed it to people in Atlanta.”
However, Freeman told the jury in Kelly’s trial Tuesday that it was McDavid who gave him the name of the person with the band.
Brindley is animated in his interrogation, often interrupting Freeman as he tries to explain the discrepancies. At one point Brindley stopped him and said, “You understand what you’re saying makes no sense, sir?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Freeman said.
“It hurts you,” Brindley retorted.
Brindley also tried to pin Freeman down when he realized the tapes contained pornography — and who told him. Freeman testified Tuesday that he first became aware of the contents when he put the tape into a VCR shortly after finding it in Atlanta and seeing Kelly having sex with a young girl.
But in several previously sworn statements, Freeman said he had been told even before going to Atlanta that Kelly’s camp was trying to get sex tapes back.
That timeline can be important. McDavid’s lawyers have argued that at the time, McDavid was under the impression that Kelly’s allegations of sexual misconduct with minors were untrue and that the tapes circulating on the street had been tampered with.
Earlier, Brindley had apparently caught Freeman smiling. “Is this funny?” he asked the witness. “Are you having fun?”
Brindley then asked Freeman if it bothered him that he’s been holding alleged child pornography for 20 years. Freeman said he wasn’t.
“You’re not mad at what you’ve done?” shouted Brindley, followed by objections from prosecutors.
Even U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, 85, who has served on the federal bench for nearly 40 years, joked Tuesday that he was “looking forward” to the defense hearing.
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Kelly, 55, is charged with 13 productions of child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Also, McDavid and another associate, Milton “June” Brown, are on trial, who, according to the indictment, hatched a plan to buy back incriminating sex tapes taken from Kelly’s collection and hide years of alleged sexual abuse of underage girls.
Freeman testified on Tuesday that he has been given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in exchange for recovering at least one of those incriminating tapes.
The plot as described by Freeman spanned nearly a decade and took place in cities from Chicago to Kansas City and Atlanta, at Kelly’s music studio, concert halls, and even the singer’s sprawling Olympia Fields mansion, where Freeman said he was told clothes and in a swimming pool to prove he wasn’t wearing a wire.
Freeman testifies under a prosecutor’s immunity agreement. In one of his most memorable statements on the witness stand Tuesday, Freeman said he didn’t tell police about the child pornography he recovered “because the police wouldn’t pay me a million dollars.”