Jurors in R. Kelly’s federal trial watched graphic snippets Friday from three separate videos allegedly showing the R&B superstar sexually assaulting his young goddaughter in the late 1990s.
While the visuals were blanked out, courthouse observers could hear much of the audio. A woman giving evidence under the pseudonym “Jane” identified herself in court Thursday as the girl in the tapes and Kelly as the man, testifying that she was 14 when they were filmed.
On the clips, we hear Jane speak in a high and very young voice. In one clip, she repeatedly refers to her “14-year-old” genitals. On another, she repeats the phrase, as does the man presumed to be Kelly.
“Get down on your knees,” Jane says in another clip. “Dad, do you still love me?” she answered.
“Of course I do,” was the response.
Jane could be heard getting instructions in several places on what to do.
“I said don’t move,” the man believed to be Kelly said in a clip.
“I’m sorry,” Jane replies.
So far, Kelly’s defense has not directly disputed that it was Kelly in the video clips, saying only that their authenticity could not be verified and that Kelly had already been acquitted of conduct involving them. . The defense also did not give jurors an alternate version of Jane’s account of the events related to the videos, instead seeking to sow doubt by telling the panel that Jane denied it was her in the clips for more than two decades.
Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to clear the courtroom of media and onlookers while the tapes were played because they contained alleged child pornography.
But Leinenweber refused, saying forcing everyone out of a public trial was too extreme and having the audio heard was not “problematic”. Instead, he asked courtroom staff to bring in large black screens so onlookers couldn’t see jurors or their monitors as they watched. Due to COVID-19 distancing protocols, the jury is seated in the courtroom gallery rather than the jury box.
Spectators and reporters in the courtroom, meanwhile, were told to sit in specific areas so they couldn’t view the videos as they played on monitors at the defense tables. and the accusation.
Just before the videos aired, Leinenweber, at the request of prosecutors, ordered that the audio feed from the courtroom and the media room be cut off. No explanation for this move was given.
The videos are at the heart of the case against Kelly and his two co-defendants, who are accused of conspiring to pay victims and witnesses and cover up years of alleged child sexual abuse by Kelly.
Earlier Friday, Kelly’s attorney cross-examined the victim allegedly depicted in the videos, who goes by the alias “Jane.” The woman, now 37, spent around four hours testifying in direct examination on Thursday that Kelly had a clandestine sexual relationship with her when she was an impressionable young teenager in the 1990s.
Kelly’s lead attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, however, focused her initial cross-examination on Jane’s adulthood. She showed Jane a long series of text messages between Jane and Kelly dating from 2018 and 2019, establishing that the two had had relatively recent contact.
The texts were friendly, with Jane inviting Kelly to a birthday party and the two exchanging New Year’s greetings. 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 replied “yes, I was on a major breakdown but now I’m on a major buildup.”
“He wasn’t trying to influence you to do anything, you were just sympathizing,” Bonjean said, which Jane confirmed.
And in February 2019, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office contacted Jane – they were in possession of more videos allegedly involving her with Kelly. Jane texted Kelly, “You gotta call me right now or I’ll make my own decisions.”
Bonjean asked Jane if that meant she demanded that Kelly pay her for her continued silence. In response, Jane slowly put the cap back on her water bottle, stopped, and said calmly into the microphone, “That’s not okay.”
“The decision I was going to make was to cooperate with the authorities because I didn’t want to carry his lies anymore,” she said.
Jane remained calm under Bonjean’s questions, maintaining eye contact as each question was asked and often giving succinct one-word answers.
During Jane’s initial 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 it was her own decision, and she admitted it was.
Bonjean also aggressively implied that Jane only changed her mind about cooperating with federal authorities in 2019 after learning she could seek restitution, a series of questions that prosecutors objected to and called for a box before the timeline could be fully established.
Jane, for her part, said she has yet to decide whether she will seek restitution if Kelly is found guilty.
After about an hour, Bonjean’s interrogation turned to Jane’s teenage years; she testified Thursday that she had sexual contact with Kelly from the age of 14 and that between the ages of 15 and 18 she had sex with Kelly “countless” times.
Bonjean was visibly skeptical that Jane’s parents would not have known and that, as Jane testified, Kelly would have trusted other underage girls to keep their threesomes with him and Jane secret.
“You’re still adamant that your parents at the time were completely unaware of this relationship, are you?” Bonjean asked, after noting how long Jane had to be away from them.
“Yes, because they thought I was in (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 when they were underage; Bonjean said in opening statements this week that they were lying and only had sex with Kelly after they could legally consent.
Bonjean’s cross-examination hit a technical glitch 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 believed to be all necessary redactions, Kelly’s defense team put the texts on screen, but apparently forgot to black out a portion containing Jane’s first and last name.
After it was displayed on the screen for a few seconds, a loud murmur arose at the defense table, and the exhibit was quickly removed.
Under cross-examination, Jane reiterated that her aunt Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards was the one who pushed her to get closer to Kelly. Jane also understands that Edwards was the one who originally leaked the pornographic tape to former Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis, she says.
“You think Sparkle was pushing Kelly on you…used you as bait with Kelly,” Bonjean said, and Jane claimed.
When prosecutors questioned her in a reconsideration, Jane acknowledged that most of their texts were simply about planning matters.
After about two and a half more hours on the stand, Jane was fired.
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Kelly, 55, is charged with 13 counts of producing child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Some of the counts carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years behind bars if convicted, while others range from five to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors are also seeking forfeiture of $1.5 million of personal money from Kelly.