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Key victim’s mother testifies in ongoing R Kelly criminal trial

By | Published on Wednesday 24 August 2022

R Kelly

The mother of the star witness in the latest R Kelly criminal trial has testified that she and her husband “feared for our lives” in the early 2000s when a video tape leaked that seemed to show the musician sexually abusing their daughter. Kelly and his team intimidated the couple, she added, and that’s why they denied to media and law enforcement that it was their daughter on the tape.

Kelly was previously charged in relation to that footage of abuse in the mid-2000s, but he was ultimately acquitted in 2008. The teenage girl being sexually abused in the video – referred to as Jane in the current trial – refused to cooperate with prosecutors in the 2000s. As a result, during the 2008 court hearing, Kelly’s defence team successfully threw doubt on whether it was, in fact, Kelly and Jane seen on the tape.

But this time Jane is cooperating with the prosecution, testifying last week that it was, in fact, her being sexually abused in the video that leaked in the early 2000s, and in other videos since obtained by prosecutors. She was fourteen at the time of the filmed abuse. She originally denied it was her seen on the tape because: “I was afraid to expose Robert – I also did not want that person to be me, I was ashamed”.

Jane’s parents first met Kelly via her aunt in the late 1990s, with her father subsequently playing guitar in the musician’s band. They first became aware that Kelly was sexually abusing their daughter around the time the original tape was leaked. Her mother, referred to as Susan in court, recalled a meeting with Kelly that took place at that time.

According to the Chicago Tribune, she told jurors during her testimony this week that, at that meeting, Kelly never specifically admitted to sexually abusing Jane, but “he was just saying he was sorry and he was crying”. As for her own response, “I was bawling and crying”.

Susan’s recollections of that meeting are slightly different than Jane’s, with Susan not being entirely certain that her daughter was even present. However, both agree that the outcome of the meeting was the decision that Jane and her parents should leave the country for a short time to avoid having to answer the questions of media and police.

It was Kelly and his business manager Derrel McDavid, a co-defendant in the current trial, who declared that the family “needed to leave town right away”, Susan said.

Kelly also asked the couple “are you with us or are you not?”, which they took as a coded threat. “They were going to harm us if we didn’t do what they told us to do”, Susan claimed, “we were fearful, [so] we packed our bags and we left town”.

After they returned to the US, and as the original criminal case against Kelly proceeded, Susan and her husband still felt frightened of the Kelly camp.

“We feared for our lives and we were intimidated”, she told the court. Meanwhile, Jane “had threatened she was going to harm herself, run away and not talk to us again” if they spoke out against Kelly. As a result they formally stated that it was not Jane in the video, including to a grand jury.

However, when asked in court this week who could be seen on the video tape, Susan was adamant: “My daughter and R Kelly”.

As with Jane’s testimony, Kelly’s defence team focused on why Susan had not just lied about the video in the early 2000s, but hadn’t spoken out about the sexual abuse until after the 2019 documentary ‘Surviving R Kelly’ was broadcast.

Indeed, even following the airing of that programme, Susan didn’t immediately change her position. And later in 2019, Susan still denied to prosecutors that Kelly and his team had told her what to say to officials and the grand jury in the early 2000s. Given her new testimony, was she lying then or now, defence lawyer Jennifer Bonjean asked. “I’m telling the truth”, Susan replied.

Elsewhere in the ongoing court proceedings, jurors heard from an agent of the US Internal Revenue Service, who talked through various payments made by Kelly and his companies throughout the 2000s seemingly in a bid to pay off victims and their families, including Jane and Susan.

They also heard from a former friend of Kelly’s who claims he was paid by the musician to recover the videos of sexual abuse that had leaked.

Attempts by Kelly and his team – including the aforementioned McDavid – to cover up the musician’s sexual abuse, and also to skew the 2008 trial, are a key element of the current criminal case. According to the Chicago Tribune, Charles Freeman, who met Kelly in the early 1990s, told the court yesterday how he he got a call from the musician in the early 2000s asking him to help “recover some tapes”.

Freeman then described in some detail the events that subsequently unfolded, including his discovery that the tape he was being paid to recover featured footage of Kelly sexually abusing a young teenager.

Along the way there were disputes over the payments due to Freeman for that work, leading him – at one point – to threaten to go public about what he knew. However, he never reported the video to law enforcement because, unlike Kelly, “the police wasn’t going to pay me a million dollars”.

The court also heard about Freeman’s dealings with co-defendant McDavid, including a bizarre meeting at Kelly’s Chicago mansion where Freeman was told the strip to his underwear and get into a swimming pool to prove he wasn’t a wearing a wire.

Freeman kept copies of the video he had recovered for Kelly. Prosecutors seemingly became aware of those copies when the new criminal investigations began following the airing of ‘Surviving R Kelly’ in 2019, and at that point he handed the videos over to this lawyer, who in turn provided them to law enforcement.

Defence lawyers for Kelly, McDavid and the other co-defendant in this case, Milton ‘June’ Brown, are all due to question Freeman later today. Kelly’s team in particular are keen to portray Freeman as an unreliable con man, which could make their line of questioning interesting to watch.

The case continues.