CHICAGO — The Kansas City man at the center of an alleged scheme to hide a sex tape showing R. Kelly in a threesome with a 14-year-old girl told a federal jury Friday that he only handed over a partial copy of the tape to Kelly’s associates because he “didn’t think they’d know the difference.”
Keith Murrell, 45, is a key witness for prosecutors, who are trying to prove that Kelly and his two co-defendants, Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, conspired to buy back incriminating tapes and hide Kelly’s sexual misconduct.
Testifying in a Missouri drawl, Murrell, who currently works at a Kansas City convenience store, said he met Kelly in the mid-1990s when he was in an R&B group named K-OS. After impressing Kelly with a song they sang into his voicemail, they were flown to Chicago to record with Kelly’s label in 1997, he said.
It was at that time he met Lisa Van Allen, a romantic partner of Kelly’s, who testified this week that she participated in threesomes with Kelly and his then-14-year-old goddaughter, which Kelly video recorded.
Murrell said he eventually moved back to Kansas City in the early 2000s. While living there, Van Allen sent him a videotape to “hold” for her, which he said he watched right away. “It was Lisa, Rob and another girl having sex,” he testified.
Murrell said he showed the video to several friends but never gave to anyone else. He was stunned in 2007, he said, when McDavid called him and said they knew he had a tape, offering a cash reward if he returned it to them.
Brown later called him and said to bring it to Chicago, but before he went, Murrell made a copy of about an eight- to 10-minute “snippet” of the tape to bring, saying “I didn’t think they’d know the difference.”
After flying to Chicago with the copy of the tape, he met at a downtown hotel with Brown and McDavid, where he was given a polygraph test to see if he’d made any copies.
Murrell said he lied to the polygrapher when asked if he made any copies of the tape. When asked why he lied, Murrell said, “Uh, because I didn’t believe that a lie detector was really true.”
Murrell said McDavid gave him $20,000 in cash and told him to go back to Kansas City and get the original tape, and if he did so he’d get a total of $100,000 in reward. He said McDavid let him know, “they weren’t playing.”
The testimony came after the cross-examination of another key witness against Kelly got off to an extraordinarily contentious and emotional start Friday. Within 15 minutes, the exchange had grown so argumentative and circular that the judge intervened, and within about 20 minutes the witness had broken down in tears.
Van Allen, 42, acknowledged at the start she was “exhausted” and did not want to come to court Friday. She had been on the stand for about five hours Thursday and testified that back in the late 1990s, she had sexual contact with Kelly and his underage goddaughter “Jane” at the behest of the singer, who also filmed and directed their encounters. After she took one of the tapes and sent it to a friend in Kansas City, Kelly and his associates offered her $250,000 to get it back, she said.
Friday morning, Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean repeatedly noted that Van Allen had for years said she first met Kelly when she was 17, but at this trial acknowledged she was 18. Authorities had informed her that the music video shoot where they met was filmed after her 18th birthday.
“It’s just simple math,” Bonjean said. “... You must have done the math.”
Bonjean showed increasing exasperation with Van Allen’s failure to nail down a timeline for when exactly she met Kelly and how old she was at the time. At one point, as Van Allen again said she was confused by a question, Bonjean threw her hands up in the air and looked toward the ceiling, letting out a heavy sigh.
“Why would I do all that math when I’m trying to tell the truth?” Van Allen said, growing frustrated. “... When I testified against him it wasn’t for me. It was about Jane.”
Bonjean noted that Jane was underage when Van Allen admittedly had sexual contact with her and Kelly: “You’re here testifying for her? This is the person you sexually abused?”
Van Allen’s bottom lip began to quiver. She reached for a box of tissues and started dabbing at her eyes. Then she broke down sobbing.
“I’m not proud of that. I don’t know what woman would be proud of that,” she said through tears. “But I am here to admit to my wrongdoings and to hold him accountable for what he’s done, so you can sit here and try to make me the bad guy all you want.”
As she sobbed for several uncomfortable minutes, Bonjean stood at the lectern with her arms crossed. “Let me know when you have composed yourself,” she said.
Later in the cross-examination, Bonjean revealed that Van Allen told federal agents in 2019 that co-defendant Brown helped her get a fake ID to travel, which she wouldn’t have needed at age 18.
Van Allen said she had no memory of that.
“I can appreciate the bitterness toward Mr. Kelly, but you do realize it’s wrong to implicate people in crimes?” Bonjean asked, to prosecutors’ objection.
“That sounds a lot like maybe you were suggesting there was some sex trafficking going on,” Bonjean continued. " … When you suggest people are getting 17-year-olds IDs to travel, you understood that was against the law?
“I don’t even remember what you’re talking about,” Van Allen said.
Bonjean also questioned Van Allen about how many threesomes she had with Kelly and where and when and why. She showed Van Allen a statement she made to authorities in 2019, in which she said she participated in the threesomes because she felt bad that Kelly had been molested when he was young.
With that, jurors have learned about that traumatic part of Kelly’s history without Kelly needing to take the stand.
Van Allen said she reached out to Kelly for his help in getting the incriminating video back, but then Kelly volunteered to give her money if she could go recover it. That isn’t logical, Bonjean implied: “This doesn’t make sense unless it was all about money, Ms. Van Allen.”
“It makes sense to not want a sex tape out there. Especially with a minor,” Van Allen said.
After a little more than two hours of questioning, Bonjean told the judge she had “nothing further.”
“Good,” Van Allen said loudly into the microphone, prompting Bonjean to whirl around and say, “Oooh!”
Van Allen gave her a big smile.
On re-direct examination from prosecutors, Van Allen said she previously sincerely believed she was 17 when she met Kelly on a music video set. She learned she had been mistaken after federal authorities did the legwork of finding documentation about when the video shoot occurred, she said.
Prosecutors also read for jurors segments of Van Allen’s testimony from Kelly’s 2008 trial, to show that her story had remained consistent and that she was not motivated by publicity. Van Allen, at that point, did not have a book deal, and had not been on television.
And Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Julien’s final questions tried to combat defense attorneys’ insinuations that Van Allen’s displays of emotions were just a phony show for jurors.
“Were your emotions yesterday fake?” Julien asked.
“No,” Van Allen responded.
Van Allen had also grown emotional near the end of her direct examination Thursday, when she described how Kelly’s associate, co-defendant Derrel McDavid, threatened her at a lawyer’s office in Chicago after she had failed a polygraph test about the tape.
“He said that I failed (the test), and that they should have murked me from the beginning” — that is, they should have killed her, she testified.
In a bombastic cross-examination, McDavid’s attorney Beau Brindley strongly disputed that characterization — pointing out that McDavid was Kelly’s business manager and suggesting it was all a lie.
“You didn’t have any reason to believe that he was some sort of murderous accountant, did you?” Brindley asked.
Brindley asked why, if Van Allen’s goal was to keep people from seeing the sex tape, she didn’t just destroy it after she stole it.
“I could’ve if that thought had crossed my mind,” she said. She also denied taking the tape because she wanted to use it to extort Kelly for money.
Kelly, 55, is charged with 13 counts of production of child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Also on trial are McDavid and Brown, who, according to the indictment, schemed to buy back incriminating sex tapes that had been taken from Kelly’s collection and hide years of alleged sexual abuse of underage girls.
Jurors in the closely watched case have so far heard from 14 other witnesses, including Jane, who testified last week Kelly videotaped sexual encounters with her when she was just 14, then pressured and ultimately paid off her and her family to remain silent. Clips from three of those videos were shown to the jury last week.