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R Kelly manager goes on trial over documentary screening gun threat

By | Published on Friday 22 July 2022

R Kelly

The trial of R Kelly’s former manager Donnell Russell, on charges of threatening a cinema that was screening Lifetime’s ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary, has begun in New York.

Attended by several of Kelly’s accusers, the screening at New York’s NeueHouse Madison Square complex was evacuated in December 2018 after someone called the police, fire department, New York City information service and the venue itself saying that they were going to “shoot up the place”. Although police did not consider these credible threats, they still called a halt to the event.

Russell denies making any of these phone calls, although the trial focusses specifically on calls made to the venue itself.

Prosecutors say that Russell made a number of calls to the venue on the day of the planned screening of the documentary, in an effort to have it called off. In one call, it is claimed, he told the venue that by using R Kelly’s name the film was infringing the singer’s copyright. His final effort to have the event called off, it is claimed, was to make the call threatening violence.

Russell’s legal reps argue that, as there is no recording of the incriminating call, there is no way a jury could say whether or not it was him who made it.

However, prosecutors say that phone records show that Russell called the venue nine times on the day of the event. He also sent a text message to a female accomplice who was inside the venue telling her that police may be arriving soon, shortly before they did as a result of the gun threat. He later asked the woman to delete that text, although she did not.

This is not the only legal case against Russell, who was arrested alongside two other men in 2020, accused of attempting to intimidate witnesses in Kelly’s sexual abuse trials.

Meanwhile, the trial of Kelly fan Christopher Gunn also got under way this week. He is accused of posting a video on YouTube calling on other fans to commit violence against prosecutors in Kelly’s New York trial.

R Kelly, of course, has faced criminal charges in multiple US states since the broadcast of ‘Surviving R Kelly in early 2019, which included many allegations of abuse against the star.

He was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison after being found guilty in the New York courts last year of establishing and running a criminal enterprise in order to sexually and physically abuse women and teenagers. He has now been transported to Chicago, where he faces another trial on abuse charges.