The two women who took the stand against R. Kelly in his federal trial in Chicago on Monday could not have been more different in demeanor.
One was fierce and unapologetically sarcastic. The other spoke so shyly that courtroom personnel often had to remind her to speak up. But both were equally confident about their allegations, describing in vivid and disturbing detail how Kelly repeatedly sexually assaulted them when they were under age.
Both women also faced hours of intensely combative cross-examination from Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, who hit hard on both their motives for coming forward and whether they were truly underage when they began sexual relationships with the singer.
The questioning led to some startling exchanges, with the quieter of the two women telling Bonjean, “You don’t have to be mean to me.”
After Bonjean said she was trying, the witness retorted, “Try a little harder.”
“I like seeing the real you. It’s cute.” Bonjean shot back.
It all amounted to another extraordinary day of testimony in Kelly’s trial, now in its third week at the Dirksen US Courthouse, which has so far featured 23 witnesses. Prosecutors have indicated they may rest their case in chief by Wednesday.
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 former Kelly associates Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” 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.
Monday’s first witness, a 37-year-old woman testifying under the pseudonym “Pauline,” said she was best friends with “Jane,” Kelly’s goddaughter and often hung out with her at Kelly’s home and recording studio. When she and Jane were both about 14 years old she went looking for Jane at Kelly’s home and found her naked, kneeling in front of Kelly, she testified.
“He told me he was just looking for bruises on her, because she hurt herself,” she said. “I told him that ‘that’s not how you look for bruises’ and he said that’s how he looked for bruises … then he stated that ‘we all have secrets.’ “
Kelly directed her to have sexual contact with him and Jane, and the three began to have sexual interactions regularly, she said. It was dozens or maybe hundreds of times when Pauline was ages 14 to 16, she testified. The legal age of consent in Illinois is 17.
Pauline said Kelly gave her alcohol, specifically Hpnotiq, the distinctive sky-blue liqueur. Pauline testified she also had threesomes with Kelly and another girl, “Brittany.”
Kelly would videotape the encounters, she said.
“He had tripods and cameras in the room,” and kept the tapes in a gym bag, she testified.
For most of Pauline’s testimony, R. Kelly, dressed in a dark blue suit, kept his head down, sometimes shaking it back and forth.
Jurors, meanwhile, listened intently to Pauline, laughing at times. When asked by prosecutors to describe a certain sex act with Kelly, Pauline said loudly: “Sucking (expletive).” One juror put her hand over her heart.
When Pauline was contacted by Chicago police in 2001, she identified Jane in a photo, but only because Pauline’s mother was in the room and also would have recognized Jane.
Later, testifying before a Cook County grand jury, Pauline also identified Jane. But she lied and said she had never seen Kelly have sexual contact with Jane, she said.
Pauline remained in a relationship with Kelly for years as an adult. When she was 20, she made a phone call to his studio posing as “Brittany” and asked for money. She said she was just trying to get his attention since she hadn’t heard from him in a while, she said.
“Well, he called it extortion, I called it ‘don’t play with me,'” Pauline testified, prompting chuckles from many in the courtroom. “Girls get mad and say stupid stuff and want to slap you or bust your car windows out. It was just a threat. He knew that. If he didn’t know that he wouldn’t have had me around all these years.”
Pauline still feels affection for Kelly, she said.
“I loved him and I still love him,” she testified. “In a weird way, I know you might judge me, but it’s like best friend meets boyfriend meets dad.”
Cross-examination by Bonjean grew testy immediately. When she approached and said “I guess we’re calling you Pauline,” the witness shot back, “You can hear just like I can.”
Then Bonjean introduced herself, saying she represents Kelly.
Pauline, heavy with sarcasm, responded: “Awesome.”
Bonjean suggested that the singer’s sexual relationship with Pauline actually began when she was legally an adult.
Pauline’s threatening phone call to Kelly’s studio did not specifically promise to reveal that they had sex when she was underage — it only mentioned something inappropriate that happened on a tour bus, Pauline acknowledged.
“In your effort to extort Mr. Kelly of $35,000 you didn’t lead with your best stuff, did you?” Bonjean asked. “It seems if you really want to get someone’s attention you might mention ‘oh, we had an illicit relationship as a minor.’ “
Bonjean also noted that Pauline has in the past given varying estimates of how many times she had sexual encounters with Kelly and Jane.
Pauline brushed that off. It was over a lengthy period of time, she said: “You could say 100, you could say 200, we f—ed a LOT.”
As for Hpnotiq, Bonjean said it wasn’t released until 2002 — the year Pauline turned 18. The drink’s official website notes that it “came on the scene” in 2001.
“You couldn’t have been drinking Hpnotiq when you were 14,” Bonjean said. Pauline took it in stride: “OK, but I was still drinking.”
Hpnotiq stands out because it was a favorite of Kelly’s, Pauline said. He used to mix it with Hennessy, a cocktail he called “The Incredible Hulk.”
Shortly before the lunch break, prosecutors called another Kelly accuser, who testified by just her first name, Tracy. Her demeanor on the witness stand was quiet and sad. At one point, prosecutors had to ask Tracy to move closer to the microphone so everyone in the courtroom could hear her.
Tracy, 40, met Kelly in 1999, when she was a 16-year-old intern at a record label and he was 32. Not long after, Kelly gave her his phone number at an expo and told her to call him. When she did, he invited her to his studio, where he got her into an office area alone, she said.
He said he liked her, and she told him she was 16, she testified.
“He’s like, ‘OK,'” she said. “He told me he was 23.”
They kissed, and when she declined to give him oral sex, he masturbated and ejaculated on her, she said.
“I tried to pull back, but he had a hold on my shirt and he was pleasuring himself,” she testified. Afterwards, when he saw she was upset, “he said he was really sorry and he didn’t mean to upset me…he promised that that wasn’t his usual behavior.”
About a week later, Kelly sexually assaulted her in a hotel room, she testified, describing their encounter in explicit detail.
“I told him I didn’t want to have sex, but he had forced himself into me,” she said. “When I asked him (to stop) he did stop.”
Tracy said that in early summer 1999, she visited Kelly at the Chicago Trax studio. “He told me this time we were going to have sex and it would probably hurt, but I would have to let him finish,” she said. They then had sex in the studio’s attic “Sky Room,” she said.
Over the next year or so, she said, they had sex about 50 times including some encounters involving other girls. Tracy began to cry softly on the witness stand as she testified about one of those incidents — a threesome with Jane and Kelly at Chicago Trax.
“He told me, ‘Remember you said you wanted to please me?’ He told me to get naked and take off my clothes,” Tracy said. Kelly then brought Jane into the room. Jane was naked.
“I was really confused and, just really angry because I didn’t really think there was anybody else but me and Rob,” Tracy said through tears. “They just seemed to be really familiar with each other and they knew what was about to happen and I was the only one who didn’t.”
Tracy said Kelly told her to “stop being a baby.” He set up the camera and a microphone and directed them all as they had oral sex, Tracy said. She said the relationship ended in 2001 when she was 18.
On cross-examination, Bonjean repeatedly asked Tracy about conflicting statements about her age when she began a sexual relationship with Kelly.
“I know you call yourself a minor, but at no point did you ever allege that you were under the age of 17 when you had sexual contact with R. Kelly correct?” Bonjean asked.
“I’m sorry but that is not correct,” Tracy responded. “I have always told the truth of how old I was.”
Bonjean took Tracy through statements she made to Cook County prosecutors in 2002 — none of which mentioned her account of being coerced into sex with Jane.
Paperwork from a 2001 lawsuit she filed against Kelly also appeared to conflict with her testimony. Bonjean showed Tracy records from the suit, including a sworn affidavit she signed saying she became an intern in April of 2000, not 1999 as she testified. The lawsuit also said she met Kelly in April of 2000 — a year after she claimed in her testimony Monday.
Tracy repeatedly answered that she told her lawyer the truth, but that someone may have made a mistake on the dates in the suit. She also said she’d told Cook County prosecutors about the sexual contact with Jane, whether they wrote it down or not.
While Tracy said she could not remember the specific expo where Kelly gave her his number, the paperwork from the lawsuit identifies it as the Black Women’s Expo. The friend who accompanied her there also testified later Monday that it was the Black Women’s Expo.
But during Tracy’s cross-examination, Bonjean asserted that Kelly was not at that event in 1999. He was, however, booked there in 2000 — the summer Tracy was 17.
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When recounting her experience with Jane, Tracy looked weary, keeping her eyes downcast or tilted towards the ceiling as if to blink away tears. In a small, quiet voice, she repeatedly apologized whenever she said she could not recall something or asked for a question to be repeated. With each “I’m so sorry,” Bonjean seemed to grow more annoyed.
“You don’t need to apologize to me,” Bonjean said with an exasperated sigh. “Just tell the truth.”
Before the prosecution rests, jurors are expected to hear from two more women who say Kelly sexually abused them when they were underage. The trial’s first week focused on “Jane,” who identified herself as the girl being sexually abused by Kelly in three separate videos from the 1990s.
One of those videos became the subject of Kelly’s 2008 Cook County trial, during which he was acquitted of child pornography charges — because, prosecutors now allege, Kelly and his associates went to great lengths to keep “Jane” quiet and recover other incriminating footage.
Witnesses last week largely focused on those efforts. Three people testified that Kelly’s team paid them to bring him videos of his homemade child pornography while he was awaiting his Cook County trial. Defense attorneys, during lengthy cross-examinations, have challenged their stories as inconsistent and tried to paint them as unreliable extortionists.