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What to Know About R. Kelly’s Latest Sex-Abuse Trial

The Cut logo The Cut 8/24/2022 Claire Lampen
R. Kelly KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images © KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images R. Kelly KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Weeks after receiving a 30-year prison sentence from a federal judge in New York, R. Kelly is back on trial for alleged sex crimes. Last September, a jury found the singer guilty on racketeering, sex-trafficking, bribery, and sexual-abuse charges. This time around, he’s facing child-pornography charges in Chicago, effectively a do-over of the 2008 trial that ended — quickly — with Kelly’s acquittal. Now, however, prosecutors say he and two of his associates conspired to cover up evidence and silence witnesses in that case, adding obstruction of justice to the docket.

Another notable change from 2008: The woman allegedly pictured in one of Kelly’s abuse tapes — “Minor 1” — has testified, reversing her position from the first trial. Back then, she told a grand jury that she wasn’t the person in the video, a decision prosecutors now say followed threats and bribes from the singer to stay quiet. Without her participation, jurors in the case later said they couldn’t be sure who appeared in the video. But whereas that panel only had one tape to consider, jurors in 2022 will reportedly view at least three others.

For his part, Kelly continues to deny any and all wrongdoing, as do his co-defendants. Yet the singer still faces two more criminal trials after this one wraps. Here’s what to know about the federal trial in Chicago.

What are the charges?

Kelly faces 13 counts pertaining to his alleged coercion of five minors into various sex acts; the creation and receipt of child pornography; and obstruction of justice. Two of his former employees face charges, too: Derrel McDavid, who used to be Kelly’s business manager, and Milton “June” Brown, who also worked for him, are accused of orchestrating the payouts and bribes said to have silenced key witnesses, as well as helping track down the tapes. All three have pleaded not guilty, McDavid’s attorney telling NBC that his client “did only one thing: He did his job.”

What is this videotape, and who is Minor 1?

In 2002, a grand jury indicted Kelly on a suite of child-pornography charges, pegged to a video in which Kelly (then in his 30s) allegedly had sex with a 14-year-old girl and peed on her. According to the Associated Press, the girl — referred to as “Minor 1” in this trial — met Kelly in the late 1990s, when she was in middle school. Her aunt, the singer Sparkle, brought Minor 1 to Kelly’s recording studio, a meeting that apparently led to the girl informing her parents that he was going to be her godfather. But within a few years, Sparkle discovered the tape and showed it to Minor 1’s parents. Per the AP, the R&B star allegedly filmed the footage sometime between 1998 and 2000, in a “log-cabin-themed” room in his Chicago home. Although she and Kelly allegedly had sex hundreds of times, in this particular instance, she can be heard calling him “daddy” on film — a demand Kelly frequently made of his victims, which came up again and again throughout testimony in his New York trial.

Minor 1’s parents say they confronted Kelly but were told, “You’re with me or against me,” per the AP. Court documents claim that her “mother did not want to go up against Kelly’s power, money, and influence by not following what he said,” and complied when he told them to get out of Chicago. He allegedly sent them to the Bahamas, then to Cancún, and when the family was called to testify to a grand jury, everyone denied Minor 1 was the girl on-camera. But as the AP points out, an attorney for Kelly sat in on the testimony, relaying everything back to the singer. When the case finally went to trial in 2008, jurors declared him not guilty on all 14 counts within hours.

What’s the relation to the 2008 trial?

Prosecutors now say Kelly interfered to intimidate the witnesses in 2008, all of whom — Minor 1, now 37, and her parents — are expected to testify at this trial. They argue that Kelly and his co-defendants spurred the woman’s change of heart, paying off her and her family to prevent them from speaking out.

According to the New York Times, prosecutors allege that — once he heard federal investigators were looking into him — Kelly and McDavid paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover missing sex-abuse tapes Kelly had made with minors. (Apparently, he used to carry these around in a duffel bag that accompanied him wherever he went.) One person they hired to complete this task allegedly threatened to go public with the tapes’ existence, eliciting a $170,000 payment from Kelly and McDavid in order to call off the press conference. In some cases, victims’ families allegedly received similar sums in exchange for their noncooperation with law enforcement. In this manner, Kelly and his employees induced witnesses to “conceal and cover up evidence, including videos, relating to Kelly’s sexual contact and sexual acts with minors,” according to court documents. They allegedly persuaded them to lie to the police and even removed victims’ families from the country to keep them from speaking with investigators.

As for Brown, he and McDavid allegedly “agreed to intimidate, threaten, pressure, persuade, and attempt to persuade” victims and their families to stay quiet, at Kelly’s direction.

The woman previously known as Minor 1 testified that Kelly sexually abused her on video when she was 14; her mother testified the same.

The woman known as Minor 1 in the 2008 case took the stand under a pseudonym, testifying that R. Kelly had sex with her “hundreds” of times when she was underage and confirming that they were the two people who appeared in the video when she was 14. Per the New York Times, the woman told the court that her aunt Sparkle introduced her to Kelly when she was 13 and that the singer, who eventually became her godfather, started speaking to her sexually over the phone before initiating physical abuse, which included repeated sexual assaults at his home and recording studio and on his tour bus. (For her part, Sparkle has denied that she enabled Kelly’s abuse, calling portions of her niece’s testimony about her involvement “not true.”) After law enforcement obtained the video in 2002, the woman said Kelly sent her and her parents outside the country, where investigators could presumably not access them, and convinced her to deny her identity on the tape before a grand jury, even paying for her lawyer. Recalling her fears over what would happen to Kelly as well as being “extremely scared” her parents would find out about their sexual involvement, the woman said she went along with the singer’s requests, giving his lawyers a necklace of hers that was visible on the tape.

The woman’s mother took the stand under the pseudonym “Susan,” telling the court she had lied to a grand jury in 2008 about her daughter’s identity on the tape, because the family “feared for our lives and were intimidated” by the singer. According to the Chicago Tribune, Susan told the court that she and her husband met with the singer and McDavid at a hotel in Illinois following reports that Kelly was having sex with her then-14-year-old daughter. Susan told the court that Kelly “never admitted” to the allegations but said he was “sorry” and cried; Kelly and McDavid allegedly told Susan and her husband that they “needed to leave town right away.” Susan told the court, “They were going to harm us if we didn’t do what they told us to do. We were fearful … we packed our bags, and we left town.” Per the Tribune, when a prosecutor asked Susan who really appeared on the tape, she replied: “My daughter and R. Kelly.”

Federal prosecutors claim R. Kelly paid exorbitant amounts of money to recover video tapes of the singer having sex with a minor.

Charles Freeman testified that R. Kelly had paid him hundred of thousands of dollars over nine years to retrieve at least one of the missing tapes after it was allegedly stolen by the singer’s ex-girlfriend Lisa Van Allen. Per the Chicago Tribune, Freeman, who testified under an immunity agreement from prosecutors, told the court that he’d befriended Kelly while working on merchandising for one of his tours, before getting a call from the singer in 2001 asking him to “recover some tapes” in exchange for a reward. At the time, Freeman claimed he didn’t know what the footage contained (Kelly’s associates allegedly told him that they were “performance” tapes) and that he signed a $100,000 contract to retrieve them with the promise of a million-dollar reward if he could provide “originals.” He recovered three cassettes from a house in Georgia. Freeman told the court that one of the tapes contained footage of Kelly “with a young lady having sex,” adding that he made multiple copies of the tapes for fear he wouldn’t be paid the full reward. Freeman claimed that McDavid contacted him in 2003 or 2004 to recover another “performance” tape with “Lisa Van Allen, Robert, and the young lady” on it. Freeman, who claims he never received his full reward, told the court he finally turned over the tapes to law enforcement in 2019, after his lawyer told him that “police was coming to get me, because my name came up that I was holding child pornography for Robert Kelly.”

How long a sentence might Kelly serve if convicted?

Kelly, now 55, was transferred from Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where he was serving his existing prison term, to Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center last month. Kelly still faces state-level charges in Illinois and Minnesota after this trial wraps, and according to the Chicago Sun-Times, a conviction on all federal charges in Chicago would mean a mandatory minimum sentence of 55 years. It’s not clear how the verdict in this trial will affect his current 30-year sentence — whether the two would be served consecutively, with the Chicago term tacked onto the Brooklyn one, or concurrently.

This post has been updated.



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