Jurors in R. Kelly’s federal trial Friday viewed graphic clips of three separate videos in which the R&B superstar allegedly sexually assaulted his young goddaughter in the late 1990s.
While the footage was hidden from view, courthouse observers could hear much of the audio. A woman testifying under the pseudonym “Jane” identified herself in court on Thursday as the girl on the tapes and Kelly as the man, and testified that she was 14 years old when they were filmed.
In the clips Jane could be heard with a high and very young sounding voice. In one clip, she repeatedly referred to her “14-year-old” genitals. On another, she repeated the phrase, just like the man Kelly would be.
“Get on your knees,” Jane was told in another clip. “Daddy, do you still love me?” she replied.
“Of course I will,” was the reply.
You heard Jane getting directions on what to do at various points.
“I said don’t move,” the man who would be Kelly said in a clip.
“I’m sorry,” Jane replied.
Kelly’s defense so far has not directly disputed that it is Kelly on the video clips, but only said their authenticity could not be verified and Kelly was previously acquitted of conduct related to them. Nor did the defense give the jurors an alternate version of Jane’s video-related event story. Instead, the defense attorneys try to cast doubt on the panel by telling the panel that Jane denied she was on the clips for more than twenty years.
Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to clear the courtroom of media and spectators while the tapes were playing, because they contained alleged child pornography.
But Leinenweber declined, saying it was too extreme to force anyone to leave a public trial and that it wasn’t “problematic” to let people hear the audio. Instead, he had courtroom staff bring large, black screens so spectators couldn’t see the judges or their monitors as they watched. Due to COVID-19 distancing protocols, the jury will sit in the courtroom gallery instead of the jury box.
Spectators and reporters in the courtroom, meanwhile, were asked to sit in specific rooms so that they could not see the videos as they played on monitors at the defense and prosecution tables.
Just before the videos played, Leinenweber, at the request of prosecutors, ordered the audio feed to the crowded courtroom and media room to be shut down. No explanation for that move was given.
The videos are at the heart of the case against Kelly and his two co-defendants, who are charged with conspiracy to pay off victims and witnesses and cover up years of alleged sexual abuse of minors by Kelly.
Earlier Friday, Kelly’s attorney questioned the victim allegedly depicted in the videos, who is referred to by the pseudonym “Jane.” The woman, now 37, spent about four hours on Thursday witnessing a face-to-face investigation that Kelly had engaged in a clandestine sexual relationship with her when she was an impressionable young teen in the 1990s.
However, Kelly’s lead attorney Jennifer Bonjean focused her first cross-examination on Jane’s adulthood. She showed Jane a long string of text messages between Jane and Kelly from 2018 and 2019, which revealed that the two had been in contact relatively recently.
The texts were friendly, Jane invited Kelly to a birthday party and the two exchanged happy New Years wishes. After Lifetime’s explosive documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” premiered in January 2019, Jane sent him messages of support.
“I love you, don’t let the devil win,” she texted him. Kelly responded with “yes, I had a big slump, but now I’m on a big build up.”
“He wasn’t trying to influence you to do anything, you just felt sorry,” Bonjean said, confirming Jane.
And in February 2019, the Cook County state attorney’s office contacted Jane — it was in possession of more videos allegedly involving her and Kelly. Jane texted Kelly, “You have to call me right away or I’ll make decisions on my own.”
Bonjean asked Jane if that meant demanding that Kelly pay her for her continued silence. In response, Jane slowly put the cap back on her water bottle, paused, and calmly said into the microphone, “That’s not correct.”
“The decision I would make was to cooperate with the authorities because I no longer wanted to spread his lies,” she said.
Jane remained calm under Bonjean’s questions, kept eye contact as each question was asked, and often gave succinct one-word answers.
In Jane’s first interviews with federal prosecutors in 2019, she declined to discuss a relationship with Kelly and refused to watch videos, she testified. Bonjean repeatedly asked if that was her own decision, and she acknowledged it.
Bonjean also aggressively hinted that Jane didn’t change her mind about working with federal authorities until 2019, after learning she could request a refund. Prosecutors objected to this line of questioning, calling for a sidebar before the timeline could be fully fleshed out.
Jane, for her part, said she hadn’t yet decided whether to ask for a refund if Kelly is convicted.
After about an hour, Bonjean’s questions came to Jane’s teenage years; she testified on Thursday that she had sexual contact with Kelly from the age of 14, and had intercourse with Kelly “countless” from the age of 15 to 18.
Bonjean was audibly skeptical that Jane’s parents wouldn’t have known and that, as Jane testified, Kelly would have trusted other underage girls to keep their threesome with him and Jane a secret.
“You’re still adamant that your parents weren’t aware of this relationship at the time, right?” Bonjean asked, after noticing how much time Jane must have been away from them.
“Yeah, because they thought I was around (Kelly’s) family,” Jane replied. “They didn’t know I was spending time with him separately.”
Two women are expected to testify later at trial that they had sexual contact with Kelly and Jane while they were minors; Bonjean said in opening statements this week that they were lying and only had sex with Kelly after giving legal consent.
Bonjean’s cross-examination ran into a technical problem when she tried to show Jane her text messages with Kelly without revealing certain identifying information such as her phone number.
After making what they thought were all necessary redactions, Kelly’s defense team put the lyrics on the screen, but apparently forgot to black out a section of Jane’s first and last name.
After being on the screen for a few seconds, a loud whisper was heard at the defense table and the exhibition was quickly aborted.
During the cross-examination, Jane reiterated that her Aunt Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards was the one pushing her to get closer to Kelly. Jane also understands that Edwards is the one who initially leaked the pornographic tape to former Sun-Times journalist Jim DeRogatis, she says.
“You think Sparkle was pushing you… using you as bait with Kelly,” Bonjean said, and Jane confirmed.
When prosecutors questioned her about the referral inquiry, Jane acknowledged that most of their texts dealt only with scheduling issues.
After being in the stands for about two and a half hours, Jane was fired.
The best stories from the Chicago Tribune editors, delivered to your inbox every afternoon.
Kelly, 55, is charged with 13 productions of child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Some of the counts have a mandatory minimum of 10 years behind bars if convicted, while others carry a prison sentence of five to 20 years. Prosecutors also demand a $1.5 million personal forfeiture from Kelly.