R. Kelly, the Chicago-born R&B superstar whose “I Believe I Can Fly” anthem inspired countless fans around the globe, sexually abused a 14-year-old girl on camera after she asked him to be her godfather as his career skyrocketed in the 1990s.
Fourteen years after a state-court jury famously cleared him of that claim — at a trial revolving around a video that became a late-night punchline — a federal jury found Wednesday that Kelly produced that and other videos of his graphic abuse of the girl, known in court as “Jane.”
And that’s not all. The federal jury also found that Kelly, 55, enticed two additional girls into criminal sexual activity when they were underage in the 1990s, all while he was on his way to being celebrated as one of the greatest R&B singers and songwriters of his generation.
His other victims were known in court as “Pauline” and “Nia.”
Still, the jury rejected the allegation that Kelly illegally thwarted that earlier 2008 trial, as well as the notion that Kelly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a frantic hunt for incriminating videos — amounting to child pornography — as he faced prosecution.
The jury also acquitted Kelly of claims that he enticed two other accusers, “Tracy” and “Brittany,” into sex crimes.
Finally, the jury acquitted former Kelly business manager Derrel McDavid and former assistant Milton “June” Brown, Kelly’s co-defendants, of all charges.
The panel of seven women and five men deliberated for about 11 hours.
Kelly, who is already serving a 30-year federal prison sentence for a racketeering conviction last year in New York, showed no obvious reaction as the verdict was read. McDavid reached across a table, and the two men leaned into an embrace. Brown also walked over to Kelly for a quick hug before marshals interrupted them.
Sentencing date not set
The singer is already not likely to leave federal prison until his late 70s. Wednesday’s verdict will likely extend his stay, though his sentencing date has not been set.
While Kelly now faces a sentence of 10 to 90 years, it’s unclear whether the judge will add any time to the end of Kelly’s current sentence or have him serve the terms concurrently.
The decision came at the end of a bruising, month-long trial featuring roughly 30 witnesses on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago’s Loop. Jurors viewed graphic videos at the heart of the case, and they heard Jane’s harrowing tale as she took the stand last month to testify for the first time against Kelly.
“I became exhausted with living with his lies,” Jane told jurors.
After the verdict was read, U.S. Attorney John Lausch said prosecutors were “pleased with the fact that Robert Kelly is finally being held accountable for that reprehensible conduct.” He thanked Kelly’s victims, who he said “survived Robert Kelly and his years of abuse.”
Lausch said the feds were “disappointed” in the not-guilty verdicts, though. And Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly’s attorney, said they shouldn’t be celebrating. She said the feds got “greedy” and overcharged the case.
“They should go back and figure out whether their approach in this case was the right one,” Bonjean said.
Bonjean later tweeted that Kelly “is in good spirits despite a mixed verdict. We won seven counts of this indictment (more than we lost) He is grateful for the support and the fight continues.”
She confirmed she intends to appeal the verdict.
Abuse began when girl was 14
Though all sides could claim victory in some aspects of the case Wednesday, the verdict also brings closure to a decadeslong legal saga in Kelly’s hometown of Chicago. Jane said it began when she was 12 or 13, when the singer attended a gospel concert at her church in the mid-1990s. That’s where she said she first met Kelly, who at the time was nearing the peak of his stardom.
The two were introduced by her aunt, Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards, she said.
Jane said she asked Kelly to be her godfather one day during a session at Kelly’s recording studio. Later, she said their conversations turned sexual. And once, in the “wee hours” at the studio, she said Kelly groped her on a couch.
Jane turned 14 in 1998, when she said the abuse started. It turned to sexual intercourse when she was 15. She told the jury the abuse occurred “innumerable times … like, uncountable.”
Then, a 26-minute, 39-second videotape was sent anonymously to Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis in early 2002. What appeared on the tape became the centerpiece of Kelly’s 2008 trial and a key piece of evidence in the trial that ended Wednesday.
DeRogatis saw footage that appeared to show Kelly performing sex acts on an underage girl who turned out to be Jane. DeRogatis recalled last month there was never a question among the newspaper’s leadership that the tape “was evidence of a felony.”
The Sun-Times decided to hand it over to police, and a Cook County grand jury soon indicted Kelly on child pornography charges. But when that case finally went to trial in 2008, Jane declined to testify. Kelly was acquitted and moved on.
Then came “Surviving R. Kelly.” The 2019 Lifetime docuseries renewed investigators’ interest in the singer. Criminal charges followed in state court. And in July 2019, federal authorities arrested Kelly, effectively ending his freedom outside Chicago’s Trump Tower. The feds revealed indictments in Chicago and New York, and they disclosed the woman who previously declined to testify against him had changed her mind.
“She has now gone on record,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull said of Jane in July 2019.
Jurors in the latest trial saw snippets of the video from Kelly’s 2008 trial and two others. Though they could not be publicly viewed, audio could be heard in the courtroom of male and female voices. The female repeatedly referred to the male as “Daddy” and at one point asked, “Daddy, do you still love me?”
She could also be heard repeatedly referring to her “14-year-old” body.
In the video from the 2008 trial, Kelly can allegedly be seen handing Jane dollars bills. Asked why, Jane testified last month that, “If anybody saw the tape or if it was released for some reason, he wanted it to appear as if I was a prostitute.”
Also guilty of abusing 2 other victims
Jane offered the most compelling testimony of Kelly’s latest trial. But three women also corroborated her claim that Kelly sexually abused her while she was underage as they shared their own stories.
And Jane’s abuse amounted to a fraction of the allegations against Kelly this time around. Jurors also convicted Kelly for his abuse of Pauline and Nia.
Pauline declared bombastically to the jurors that she and Kelly “f---ed a lot.” Now 37, she said Jane introduced her to Kelly when she and Jane were 14. One day, she said she discovered Jane naked in a room with Kelly, who claimed to be checking Jane for bruises.
Then, she said Kelly threatened to tell her mother that she’d kissed a boy. Soon, he encouraged Jane and Pauline to kiss and fondle each other.
Pauline said sexual intercourse with Kelly began when she was 15 or 16. She said she participated in numerous threesomes with Kelly and Jane.
Nia, now 42, said she met Kelly at age 15 in 1996. She said she approached him at a mall in Atlanta, seeking an autograph but also walking away with his phone number. She said Kelly made arrangements for her to travel to see one of his concerts in Minneapolis. The morning after the concert, she said Kelly visited her in a hotel room, touched her breasts and began to masturbate. Afterward, she said he left “in a rush.”
Nia said she spent that summer with family in Chicago. She said she and some cousins visited Kelly at his recording studio. While they were there, she said she slipped into a hallway to see Kelly, who made out with her and fondled her.
Prosecutor: Dismissed count ‘a righteous charge to bring’
Jurors also heard about two other minors allegedly abused by Kelly, but the panel was apparently not convinced.
Tracy, now 40, said she was 16 when she was introduced to Kelly in 1999 by her boss during an internship at Epic Records. She said Kelly gave her his phone number when she tried to get his autograph for a friend. She said she called him, and their interactions soon became sexual.
She said he masturbated in front of her while she tried to pull away during a visit to his recording studio, performed oral sex on her another time in a hotel and insisted she have sexual intercourse with him in another incident at the studio. In a third studio incident, she said Kelly told her he’d return with a present — and came back with Jane, who was naked.
She said Kelly made them perform oral sex on him.
Still, Tracy also sued Kelly in 2001. And when she did, she claimed she met Kelly in April 2000 — when she would have been 17.
The fifth accuser, Brittany, did not testify. Rather, prosecutors urged jurors to convict Kelly of her abuse based on testimony from Jane and Pauline.
After the verdict Wednesday, Lausch offered the clearest explanation of the decision to charge Kelly with Brittany’s abuse and her alleged three-way sexual encounters.
“One of those people got on the stand and told about the horrific conduct that occurred in that case,” Lausch said. “That was absolutely a righteous charge to bring, a just charge to bring, and we would bring that again tomorrow.”
Contributing: David Struett, Emmanuel Camarillo