‘He put the fear of God in me’: key testimony from the R Kelly trial

The court heard of physical and sexual abuse from a ‘controlling’ singer who witnesses said acted with impunity

The singer R Kelly was convicted of running a criminal enterprise that recruited women and children and sexually exploited and coerced them.

Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, was arrested in July 2019 on federal charges of racketeering and violating the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of women or girls for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery. Kelly pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Here are key moments from the trial:

• A former tour manager for Kelly told the court that he paid a $500 bribe to a government worker to get the singer Aaliyah a fake ID, so Kelly could marry her when she was 15.

Demetrius Smith said he had paid an employee at a Chicago welfare office to produce the card, used to clear the way for Kelly to marry Aaliyah after he began a sexual relationship with her and believed she had become pregnant. A marriage license put into evidence falsely listed her age as 18. Kelly was 27 at the time.

One witness alleged that she had seen Kelly sexually abusing Aaliyah in 1993, when Aaliyah was 13 or 14. Prosecutors said Kelly wanted to use the marriage, which was later annulled, to shield himself from criminal charges related to having sex with a minor and to prevent her testifying against him.

Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001 aged 22.

• Jerhonda Pace, a key accuser, described being choked unconscious by R Kelly after she broke “Rob’s rules”, which included the singer controlling what she ate, wore and whether she could use the bathroom.

Pace said she was 16 when she first had sexual interactions with Kelly in 2009, having told him she was older. When she later told Kelly her true age, he continued the relationship until 2010, allegedly telling Pace to call him “Daddy”.

Pace, who was interviewed for the Surviving R Kelly documentary in 2019, said that Kelly physically abused her on multiple occasions during the relationship.

On one occasion, Pace said she had not acknowledged Kelly when he entered the room, and was instead using her phone. Kelly did not believe Pace when she said she was texting her friends and quickly became agitated.

“That’s when he slapped me and he choked me until I passed out,” Pace said. “When I woke up, I was on the floor.”

Lawyers for Kelly said Pace was a “superfan” who had fabricated her story, which she denied.

• One witness testified that Kelly had beaten her with a shoe, and wept as she said she had contracted herpes after having sex with him.

The woman, identified only as “Jane Doe”, said she was 17 when the abuse took place in 2015. She said she met Kelly while he was performing on a tour. She told him she was an aspiring performer and lied about her age, saying she was 18.

The witness said she had no romantic interest in Kelly, but wanted his input on her singing career.

​​The first sign of trouble, she said, came when Kelly offered her an audition but said he needed to ejaculate before it would happen. She said they began regularly having sex, with Kelly nearly always videotaping the encounters.

She told the court of an incident where Kelly flew into a rage because she had texted a friend about him. She said Kelly grabbed a size 12 sneaker from his closet and assaulted her with it.

“He hit me all over,” she said. “I was running from him and fighting back,” but at 4ft 11in and 98lbs she said she had been no match for him.

The witness was one of several who said they had contracted herpes after having sex with Kelly. “This man purposely gave me something he knew he had,” she said. “He could have controlled the situation.”

• The court heard that Kelly forced women to write fake letters, detailing how they had been abused by family members or committed crimes, to ensure their loyalty to the singer.

“They were to basically exploit us to protect him,” one witness said.

The witness also said Kelly had forced her to film degrading videos as punishment, including one where she was told to smear feces on her face and “put it in my mouth and act like I liked, enjoyed that”.

She said after performing the act Kelly had said she “wasn’t into it enough” and threatened to make her “redo it”.

Another witness, identified as “Anna”, echoed the allegations, telling the court that Kelly made her be “sexual and seductive with bodily fluids”.

• One woman described Kelly as a “controlling and intimidating” man who “could put the fear of God in me very quickly”, as she described a relationship she had with Kelly in 1999, when she was 17 and he was 32.

The witness, introduced to the jury only as “Stephanie”, said she had a months-long relationship with Kelly after meeting him at a Nike store in Chicago. Stephanie said Kelly ordered her to call him “Daddy”, and said he would film their sexual interactions and yell at her for disobeying his commands.

She recalled once going to a restaurant with Kelly and two of his friends, and said she was instructed not to talk to the men during the meal. She said Kelly mused to his friends about why it was a “big deal” to people that he “liked young girls”. Stephanie said Kelly compared himself to the singer Jerry Lee Lewis, who married a 13-year-old cousin.

“I’m a genius. We should be able to do what we want,” Kelly said, according to Stephanie.

• This article was amended on 1 October 2021 to more accurately reflect the nature of the charges R Kelly had faced.

Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html


Adam Gabbatt

The GuardianTramp

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