CHICAGO — For the first time after two decades of swirling allegations, R. Kelly’s former goddaughter has taken the stand as a prosecution witness in a case against the disgraced singer.
Dressed in a white blazer with her hair in long braids, the woman, now 37 and testifying at Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago under the pseudonym “Jane,” told the jury she had sexual contact with Kelly for the first time at 14.
Their sex acts escalated to intercourse when she was 15, she said. Asked by a prosecutor how she knew her exact age, Jane calmly responded, “Because that’s when I lost my virginity.”
After that, they had sex “innumerable times,” sometimes along with other teenage girls whom Jane recruited at Kelly’s request, she said. The encounters took place in Kelly’s home on West George Street, at his Near West Side recording studio, on tour buses, and in hotels in Chicago and elsewhere, she said.
Two of the other minor victims are also expected to testify against Kelly later in the trial.
To illustrate how young she looked at the time of the encounters, prosecutors had Jane identify two photos of herself from her childhood. The first, taken when she was a sophomore in high school, showed her on one knee holding a basketball, smiling. The other was a headshot from when she was in a music group at 13 — around the time she said she first met Kelly.
“Jane” is expected to testify later Thursday that she was in fact the girl depicted on infamous video footage being sexually abused by Kelly.
Jane and her parents had denied for years that Kelly ever had an inappropriate relationship with her. Jane was not called to testify at Kelly’s 2008 Cook County trial for child pornography, even though county prosecutors alleged she was the girl on the tape.
Federal prosecutors allege Kelly and his associates paid off Jane and her family and covered up other videotapes in order to rig his Cook County trial. He was acquitted on those charges in 2008.
Testifying in a quiet voice, Jane said she was starstruck when she first met Kelly in the 1990s, especially after he attended a performance of her music group and gave her good feedback.
“It made me feel happy that such a successful person was saying I was gifted, so I was excited,” she said.
She began to visit Kelly’s studio regularly when she was 12 or 13, along with her aunt Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards, a protegee of Kelly’s.
Edwards advised her she should ask Kelly to be her godfather, she testified.
“(She said) I should sit on his lap and rub his head and ask him to play that role in my life,” Jane testified. She did, and Kelly “chuckled a bit, and said yes.”
After that, their relationship took a sexual turn, Jane said. She would have long phone conversations with him that eventually turned explicit, she said. She was 13 years old.
Kelly also gave her alcohol for the first time when she was 14, and she began drinking heavily.
“It would help me loosen up, kind of take me away from the moment,” she testified.
Jane has so far remained calm on the witness stand, keeping her gaze on the prosecutor asking her questions, pausing at times to sweep her braids off her shoulder or wipe at her eyelashes.
Kelly has shown little outward reaction to her testimony. When it came time for the witness to identify Kelly in the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber instructed everyone in the room to remove their masks, then Jane said that she saw the singer sitting at the defense table in a blue suit jacket.
After Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng asked Jane to identify another article of clothing Kelly was wearing, Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said loudly into her microphone, “So stipulated. It’s Mr. Kelly!”
Prosecutors earlier called to the witness stand a man who in 2001 purchased a big house in Lakeview: a converted church with a swimming pool and basketball court and a barbershop. The previous owner was, he came to find out, R. Kelly.
Kelly allegedly filmed at least one of the videos at issue in his federal indictment at that home, and in 2002, police evidence technicians came through to take photos, including pictures of the wood-paneled room depicted on the tape.
After Matthew Hulsizer moved in, he found out that a smoke detector in at least one of the bedrooms was not in fact a smoke detector at all — it concealed a small hidden video camera. And in order to leave the bedroom, you had to press a button, he said, a feature he removed since he thought it was a safety hazard.
A basketball court in the George Street home was an homage to Kelly’s success with a large cartoon mural painted on one wall depicting the Looney Tunes characters from the movie “Space Jam” which of course had featured Kelly’s Grammy winning song.
The cartoon included a likeness of Kelly on the court in red uniform and sunglasses, according to photos presented by the government, playing with the Tasmanian Devil. The cartoon scoreboard showed he was winning by two points with one second left on the clock. Some in the crowd of cartoon characters, which included Tweety Bird and Marvin the Martian, were holding up signs.
The “Colorado Room” looked like the interior of a log cabin with faux wood walls and an accent wall that appeared to be fake stone. A large hot tub dominated the room, also ensconced in fake wood paneling.
The photos of the master bedroom presented by prosecutors included close ups of the “escape” button and the smoke detector on the ceiling where the new owner said he’d found a small hidden video camera.
Kelly sat dressed in a dark blue suit. Before court began, a marshal came out to the table to ask for a tie for him, telling his lawyers “he wants the brown one today”
Testimony had resumed Thursday with cross-examination of a retired Chicago police detective who investigated the initial allegations that Kelly was sexually abusing his teenage goddaughter.
On the stand again Thursday, Daniel Everett reiterated that when he spoke to “Jane” and her parents in 2000 they denied that the girl had any kind of inappropriate relationship with Kelly.
A little more than a year later, he got a tape from then-Chicago Sun-Times journalist Jim DeRogatis and recognized “Jane” on the footage. That video became the center of Kelly’s Cook County court case 20 years ago.
Defense attorneys hit hard on chain-of-custody issues surrounding the tape. Everett noted that he has recently seen a copy of the footage and the content is the same, but he does not know where the original VHS tape is.
On cross-examination from Bonjean, Everett noted that he also interviewed a friend of Jane’s in 2002. That person is expected to testify later at trial under the pseudonym “Pinky.”
There is no indication in Everett’s reports that underage Pinky told him she had sexual contact with Kelly, Everett testified. And while there were concerns that a videotape depicted images of Pinky being abused, when Everett showed her and her mother stills from the tape, they denied any involvement, he testified.
Prosecutors’ very first witness was a psychologist whose testimony was intended to provide context or explanation for some of the witnesses’ behavior, including that victims often keep their abuse secret for years.
The tape allegedly filmed in that Lakeview house is one of four at the center of the child pornography charges against Kelly, who is also accused along with former associates Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown of conspiring to rig his 2008 trial.
In opening statements, prosecutors painted Kelly as a serial predator, who had sexual contact with underage girls hundreds of times over the years. Five women including “Pinky” and “Jane” are expected to testify over the course of the trial that Kelly sexually abused them when they were teenagers.
Bonjean, meanwhile, said prosecutors’ case “really does hinge on the testimony of liars, extortionists, (and) people who engaged in the business of trafficking pornography.”
Opening statements began Wednesday after two full days of jury selection. The 12 jurors and six alternates were sworn in late Tuesday; on Wednesday morning, one juror was replaced with an alternate after developing a medical issue. They are expected to hear evidence and arguments over roughly the next four weeks.