R. Kelly accuser testifies she wasn't truthful in CBS News interview

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An R. Kelly accuser on Tuesday testified in the singer's federal racketeering trial that she wasn't truthful during a 2019 interview with "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King, in which she defended the disgraced R&B singer as he hovered nearby. Although the woman identified herself to King by name during the interview, she is now testifying anonymously during Kelly's trial using a pseudonym.

In her interview with King, the woman said she and another woman were Kelly's live-in girlfriends. At the time, she described a loving relationship, but later said she had been "brainwashed" by Kelly. Speaking in court on Tuesday, the woman said Kelly was present during the 2019 CBS News interview, and would cough to "to let us know he was there" and signal that the two women should back up his denials of abuse. (King reported on "CBS This Morning" at the time that Kelly was present and coughed at times during the interview.)

The woman testified that she would now characterize her relationship with Kelly as abusive, though she said she did not feel that way at the time. She said that she has had no contact with Kelly since January 2020.

In this courtroom artist's sketch made from a video screen monitor of a Brooklyn courtroom, defendant R. Kelly, left, listens during the opening day of his racketeering trial on August 18, 2021, in New York. / Credit: Elizabeth Williams/AP
In this courtroom artist's sketch made from a video screen monitor of a Brooklyn courtroom, defendant R. Kelly, left, listens during the opening day of his racketeering trial on August 18, 2021, in New York. / Credit: Elizabeth Williams/AP

Federal prosecutors in New York have accused Kelly of operating a criminal sex trafficking network composed of his managers, bodyguards, drivers, assistants and others who recruited minor females and women at concert venues where he was performing and other locations. Once Kelly had the accusers alone, he "dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically," Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Maria Cruz Melendez claimed during the trial's opening statements in a Brooklyn courtroom last week.

Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and has steadfastly maintained his innocence, including in the explosive 2019 interview with King. His defense attorneys have blasted the alleged racketeering enterprise as an overreach by prosecutors, saying the relationships were consensual and said that the women enjoyed the "notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar."

Known for his 1996 song "I Believe I Can Fly" and other chart-topping hits, the 54-year-old Kelly has for years faced allegations of sexual abuse, which he has denied. Speaking in court Tuesday, the woman said Kelly told her not to watch the 2019 Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," in which multiple women came forward with allegations of abusive and controlling behavior rom the Grammy-winning singer. The woman said Kelly told her that if the documentary came on the television, "we were to immediately change the channel."

The series prompted public outcry over the allegations amid the #MeToo era, and the singer was charged with federal crimes in New York and Chicago the same year.

Beginning her testimony on Monday, the woman described allegedly being sexually and physically abused during a relationship that started when she was a 17-year-old aspiring singer in April of 2015. She said she wanted Kelly to critique her music during their first encounter at a hotel, but he coerced her into sex. She gave a disturbing account of the months that followed, including claims of being confined to a room for days in Kelly's Chicago studio and being beaten with a shoe by Kelly in his Atlanta home for breaking a set of draconian rules he allegedly enforced. The woman cried as she claimed she contracted herpes during her relationship with the singer and said that she believes Kelly knowingly exposed her to it. She also testified that the singer impregnated her when she was 18 and coerced her into having an abortion, though she didn't want the procedure.

On cross-examination Tuesday, Kelly's defense lawyer, Deveraux Cannick, asked the woman why she hadn't confided in anyone about being "violated" by Kelly during their first encounter, and why she continued to tour with the singer. Cannick also pressed the woman on why her parents allowed her to miss school and frequently travel to meet Kelly. The woman said Kelly promised to take care of her for the rest of her life if she would allow the sexual encounters.

Cannick asked the woman whether her parents asked her to take photos of herself with Kelly with the intent of blackmailing him — an assertion she made during her 2019 interview with King that her parents have denied, King has reported. The woman said Tuesday that her mother did request photos but did not specify her mother's intent.

The defense referenced letters the woman wrote to Kelly in 2019 after she'd left his home, saying she loved and supported him and "everything from this point out is all politics." The defense also referenced a recorded conversation the woman had with her father before she ended contact with Kelly in January 2020, in which she said "there was no way in the world" Kelly would have kidnapped her or held her against her will.

The woman's testimony follows the account of another accuser last week who testified Kelly physically and sexually abused her during a relationship that started when she was a 16-year-old fan in 2009.

Kelly also has pending criminal cases in Minnesota and Illinois. He has pleaded not guilty. His racketeering indictment includes underlying counts of sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping, forced labor and violations of the Mann Act, which criminalizes the transportation of women and girls for any "immoral purpose." He faces 10 years to life in prison if he is convicted in the New York case.

Erica Brown and The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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