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R Kelly’s former manager found guilty of threatening cinema screening of ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary

By | Published on Monday 25 July 2022

R Kelly

R Kelly’s former manager Donnell Russell was found guilty on Friday of threatening physical harm by interstate communication in relation to a phone call he made to a New York cinema in late 2018 in a successful bid to stop a screening of the documentary ‘Surviving R Kelly’. The guilty verdict came at the end of a short trial that began last week in the New York courts.

The December 2018 screening at the NeueHouse Madison Square complex was called off after an anonymous man made phone calls to both emergency services and the cinema itself to the effect that he would “shoot up the place” if the film was shown. Several of the women who had made allegations of abuse against Kelly were in attendance at the screening, which was due to be followed up by a panel discussion.

Russell had earlier in the day tried to get the screening cancelled on legal grounds, before opting to simply make threats of violence against the cinema. In court last week, his lawyer conceded that his client had indeed made the earlier calls making the legal threats, but argued that there was no solid evidence that he had followed up with the threats of violence.

According to Courthouse News, Russell’s defence lawyer stated that the person at the cinema who had received the calls said that the voice threatening violence was different to that which had made the legal claims earlier in the day, and that it sounded like the latter call was being made from the street on a mobile.

And yet, the defence added, the prosecution claimed that Russell made all the calls, and from a landline. But speaking for the prosecution, Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz countered that “you [can] change how your voice sounds”, and that “you can walk outside with a landline – you can open a window”.

Prosecutors also noted how, shortly after the gun threat had been made, Russell had sent a text message to a female accomplice who was inside the cinema telling her that police may be arriving soon. He later asked the woman to delete that text, but she did not.

It took the jury just two and half hours to conclude that Russell did make the gun threat call on that day, therefore finding him guilty of the charge of threatening physical harm by interstate communication, although he was acquitted on a related conspiracy charge. The former manager is now due to be sentenced in November.

Although the New York screening was cancelled, ‘Surviving R Kelly’ did air on TV the following month, of course, very much putting the spotlight on the decades of abuse allegations that had been made against Kelly himself.

That resulted in a flurry of criminal charges, that in turn led to the musician’s conviction in the New York courts last year and the recent 30 year jail sentence that was handed down. Kelly also faces charges in other states, with a trial in his home town of Chicago due to kick off next month.

Russell is also fighting other charges over allegations he harassed one of Kelly’s victims in a bid to stop her pursuing legal action against the star.