CHICAGO, IL — Sometimes justice never comes, sometimes it takes more than 20 years. For several women whom R. Kelly sexually assaulted when they were underage, their decades-long fight ends in some vindication. R. Kelly was found guilty on six of the 13 counts — including creating child pornography and enticing minors into illegal sexual activity — on Wednesday at his federal child pornography trial at Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago. The disgraced singer was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking at his Brooklyn federal trial last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Kelly was indicted and charged with one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, two counts of receiving child pornography, four counts of producing child pornography, five counts of enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The counts vary with mandatory minimums from five years to maximums of up to 20 years each.
Kelly’s former business manager Derrel McDavid and former employee Milton “June” Brown, who were tried alongside Kelly, were found not guilty on all charges connected to a scheme to cover up years of Kelly’s sexual abuse of minors, which included buying incriminating tapes taken from Kelly’s collection. McDavid was found not guilty on all four charges: One count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, two counts of receiving child pornography, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Brown was found not guilty on one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography.
The trial was about justice for the girls, now women, as the prosecution drove home. Four women testified they were underage when Kelly sexually assaulted them and a fifth said she was involved in a threesome with Kelly and the prosecution’s star witness known as “Jane.” The case highlighted four videotapes depicting Kelly performing sexual acts with Jane when she was 14, with clips from three of the videos shown to jurors at the end of the trial’s first week. (The tape known as Video 4, which allegedly contains footage of the threesome was not shown to jurors.) While the defense questioned Video 4’s existence, prosecutors said the footage was part of the cover up by Kelly and his team.
In some ways, the trial was a do-over of Kelly’s 2008 state child pornography trial, which ended with Kelly’s acquittal. Per the indictment, the conspiracy to obstruct justice charges relate to Kelly and others who were accused of obstruction via payoffs and other actions in the 2000s, effectively rigging the 2008 trial. “Jane” was also central to the 2008 trial, but refused to testify. Jurors in that trial would say after that her refusal to testify was a major factor in Kelly’s acquittal.
Now, more than 20 years later, Jane had her say in court as the first accuser brought to the witness stand. She confirmed — in powerful and emotional testimony — that she was the girl on the graphic videotapes, painstakingly detailing how Kelly would direct her to talk about her underage body and how he urinated on her as he videotaped her. Describing one scene where Jane was handed money by Kelly and asked why that happened, Jane broke down in tears. “Because if anyone saw the tape… he wanted it to appear like I was a prostitute.”
Police first investigated allegations about Kelly coercing sex with minor Jane in 2000. “I was afraid,” she said of not testifying in 2008. Jane testified in this trial that she eventually developed feelings for the singer. “I wanted to protect him,” she testified. In 2002, when investigators were looking to interview Jane about the tape that then-Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis had anonymously received, Jane said Kelly sent her and her family to Mexico and the Bahamas. Jane also said Kelly coached her to deny their involvement during her 2002 testimony during a grand jury.
Her testimony was corroborated by several witnesses at the trial, but her own testimony along with the viewing of the tapes by the jurors — and a brutal listen for those inside the courtroom who were not allowed to watch but heard them — resonated. As the jury viewed the video clips behind screens, those in the courtroom heard a youthful-sounding Jane referring to her “14-year-old” body, including her breasts and genitalia, during several points while some 17 clips from three separate videotapes were presented in court. Kelly could be heard affirming her age in some of the clips. Elsewhere, Kelly is heard commanding Jane to do certain sexual things. In the audio, Jane is also heard saying “I’m sorry” to her sexual abuser several times as the tapes played in the courtroom.
Lisa Van Allen, who had initially stated she was age 17 when she met Kelly in 1998, admitted she was actually 18 years old when she testified during the Chicago federal trial. Either way, she was the age of consent in Illinois as defense pointed out. Van Allen said she had three threesomes with Kelly and Jane, which were videotaped by Kelly. Van Allen said Kelly told her Jane was 16. Van Allen later found out Jane was 14 years old. “I didn’t want to do the first ones,” she said. “But I definitely didn’t want more encounters” after she discovered Jane’s age.
At one point, Van Allen took one of the tapes she, Jane and Kelly were in and gave it to another witness Keith Murrell. She and Murrell were paid by McDavid via Kelly to turn over the tape, Van Allen testified, and they were also subjected to polygraph tests. Upon her failing her third test, she alleged McDavid said they should have had her “murked,” which she took to mean “murdered,” she said through tears during her testimony. Defense painted her and Murrell as liars and extortionists, pointing out Van Allen’s inconsistent testimony over the years during cross examination.
Two more Kelly accusers, a woman who testified under the pseudonym “Pauline” and another as “Tracy,” shared their stories of being coerced by Kelly into sex while they were underage. The two women, who testified on the same day, may have had different demeanors on the witness stand — Pauline was defiant, Tracy more timid — but both had similar stories to share, including testifying that their love for Kelly initially kept them from detailing events to authorities.
Pauline was age 14 when she met Kelly via her “best friend” Jane. She said Kelly encouraged her to kiss Jane and they engaged in touching and oral sex the first time she had a sexual encounter with Kelly. The threesomes, Pauline said, also involved another underaged accuser “Brittany,” who had been expected to testify, but did not. Pauline said they were given alcohol by Kelly and by the time she was age 15 their sexual encounters included sexual intercourse. She said she had also taken one of the tapes Kelly made of them engaging in sex acts, but she gave it back. She admitted when she was around age 20 that she pretended to be Brittany in order to get money from Kelly because “he was not being a good boyfriend” and testified that she didn’t make underage accusations when she was interviewed in 2019 due to her feelings for him.
Tracy said she met Kelly when she was 16 years old while interning for a record label. She said she ran into him again at an expo where he gave her his number, which she later called and he invited her to his recording studio. While there, she said he kissed her, exposed and pleasured himself and ejaculated. She said a week later he “forced himself” on her in a hotel room. There were other encounters she detailed, including a threesome she was coerced into by Kelly with him and Jane, which he filmed. “I was crying and he told me to stop being a baby,” she said through tears while on the stand. Tracy filed a civil suit against Kelly, which was settled out of court for $250,000, though Tracy said she did not receive the full settlement.
The final survivor to testify against Kelly during the Chicago federal trial was “Nia.” She said she met the singer when she was 15 years old at a mall in Atlanta in 1996. When she asked for his autograph, he gave her his number alongside his signature. They began having phone conversations and he invited and arranged to have her see him in concert in Minneapolis. She attended the concert and did not see him in person until the following morning when Kelly arrived at her hotel. He kissed and hugged her, and after his initial greeting, he told her to undress, walk around and then sit next to him. She followed his directions and then he fondled her breasts, masturbated, cleaned up afterwards and quickly made an exit.
During the interaction she testified that he asked her if she was a virgin, which she was at the time. Nia saw him again in Chicago. She and three of her cousins visited Kelly at his recording studio, where she said he fondled her breasts, put his hand down her pants and touched her vagina. In 2002 she filed a lawsuit against him over the underage sexual assault, which resulted in a settlement that included a $500,000 payout.
While each survivor’s testimony was compelling on its own, there were inconsistencies that the defendants’ lawyers astutely pointed out during cross examinations, including discrepancies in ages and the dates of when events happened. Still, the victims’ accounts were also corroborated by other witnesses called on by the government. Some of those witnesses came with their own set of questionable motives and fuzzy timelines, many of whom the defense painted as liars and extortionists, including Murrell and Charles Freeman, each of whom received payment for the child pornography tapes missing from Kelly’s collection and immunity for their testimony.
As the days wore on and the lines to get into the courtroom grew longer and formed earlier, one Kelly fan took to playing “I Believe I Can Fly” on her cell phone while waiting for court to commence, before a marshal told her to turn it off. Kelly supporters also became fans of Kelly’s legal team led by the sleek Jennifer Bonjean, who had a difficult task as she said during her closing statement when she asked the jury that they view her infamous client as a “John Doe” like his accusers used pseudonyms to level the playing field. Still, she put up a strong fight for her client, filing several impassioned motions for mistrial, which Leinenweber denied, and she went on attack on any witness testimony inconsistencies, some of which came across effectively in court.
McDavid’s legal team led by Beau Brindley were well matched for their client, together they exuded confidence throughout much of the trial, casually joking with the judge and laughing amongst themselves. Brindley’s preacher-like booming deliveries proved effective when challenging some inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimony.
Veteran attorney Mary Judge was well-suited to defend Brown with her quiet and confident demeanor mirroring that of her client who appeared attentive but relaxed in court. His single count of conspiracy to receive child pornography did not seem to be much of a focus, and appeared as almost an afterthought during the course of the tiral — his name rarely came up in court, as Leinenweber joked when Judge said she would need an hour for her closing argument.
The disgraced singer attracted a colorful cast of supporters — which included R. Kelly vloggers (two of whom got in a scuffle with one arrested outside Dirksen, per Chicago Tribune), people wearing their Sunday best, and fans who said they have been by his side through his recent trial in New York and his 2008 trial in Chicago. Over the course of four weeks, dozens of Kelly supporters showed up at the trial from different areas of the country, praying, interjecting “Amens” during the proceedings, and blowing kisses towards their fallen star inside the courtroom. Supporters were repeatedly warned to have decorum during the proceedings, some were thrown out of court, yet many returned each day.