In July, R. Kelly’s alleged sexual misdeeds returned to the headlines, after a Buzzfeed News story claimed R. Kelly lures women into “cult”-like sexual relationships. The singer “unequivocally denied” the allegations via his lawyer Linda Mensch, but on Tuesday, Buzzfeed News published another account of Kelly’s alleged abuse.
Jerhonda Pace claimed she was sexually involved with the R&B superstar when she was a 16-year-old fan from Chicago’s south suburbs. Both Buzzfeed stories came from Jim DeRogatis, a Chicago freelance journalist who has reported on the cases against the singer for decades, stretching back to his initial bombshell report in the Sun-Times in 2000.
The R&B singer has a decades-long history of alleged sexual misconduct, settling numerous lawsuits out of court, and was acquitted from a 2002 child pornography case, stemming from an anonymous sex tape. He continues to be embraced by some fans, critics and the music industry, and save for a 1996 battery charge, he has never been found guilty of any charges related to sexual misconduct in a court of law.
When did R. Kelly’s troubles start?
On Aug. 31, 1994, R. Kelly, then 27, married the up and coming R&B singer Aaliyah, who was 15 years old at the time, in Rosemont. A falsified Cook County marriage certificate listed her age as 18, as DeRogatis later reported in the Sun-Times. Illinois prohibits adult men from having sex with girls under 17.
The marriage was annulled soon after and records were sealed.
The couple’s short-lived marriage grabbed headlines at the time, but the incident didn’t register as a major scandal for Kelly, whose career took off in the years following the annulment with three commercially successful albums and three Grammys in 1998 for his chart-topping single “I Believe I Can Fly.”
When did his misdeeds first become public?
Kelly’s history of legal battles didn’t make headlines until 2000, when the Sun-Times article co-authored by DeRogatis detailed a disturbing lawsuit one woman brought against the singer.
According to the article, Tiffany Hawkins, an aspiring singer from Kelly’s native Chicago, sued him in 1996 for $10 million in damages. In the suit, Hawkins alleged she “suffered personal injuries and severe emotional harm” resulting from sex with Kelly beginning in 1991, when she was 15. The lawsuit was settled in 1998.
A second Chicago woman who was named in the lawsuit described Kelly’s “sickness” in the Sun-Times article, claiming she was involved in a threesome when she was 16 years old with Kelly and Hawkins.
Over the next two years, Kelly settled three more cases out of court. In response to the cases, Kelly’s attorney Gerry Margolis claimed the singer was innocent and accused Susan E. Loggans, the lawyer who represented Hawkins and Sampson, of making a career of filing false claims against him. “The cash machine is closed,” he said following Jones’ suit.
What happened with the tape?
In 2002, Chicago police opened an investigation into Kelly after a videotape was anonymously sent to the Sun-Times, allegedly showing him having sex with an underage girl. The girl in the video was identified to the Sun-Times by her aunt, who said that her niece would have been 14 in the tape.
Shortly after, Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography, corresponding to various acts shown in the tape. He pled not guilty on all counts.
Kelly would not see trial for another six years, a stretch that saw his career reach new heights fueled by the hits “Snake,” “Step in the Name of Love”and “Ignition (Remix)” and the first chapters of his “hip-hopera” “Trapped in the Closet.”
Kelly’s trial began in 2008, and took only a few hours of deliberation for the jury to clear him of all charges.
What happens now?
In July, Buzzfeed News reported that Kelly is keeping six women aged 18 to 31 in various properties in Chicago and Georgia, where he physically abuses them and secludes them from their families.
This report won’t necessarily result in new legal action against Kelly. All of the women cited in the July story are of legal age (17 in Illinois and 16 in Georgia), and welfare checks by police in both Illinois and Georgia in the past year didn’t lead to charges. In January, when contacted by police, one of the women associated with Kelly told authorities she was “fine and did not want to be bothered.”
As for Pace, she broke a previously signed nondisclosure agreement in order to tell her story.
“The allegations against Mr. Kelly are false, and are being made by individuals known to be dishonest,” Kelly’s representatives said in a statement issued Tuesday to Buzzfeed, vowing he’ll take “appropriate legal action to protect himself from ongoing defamation.”
Pace told Buzzfeed she was aware she could be sued by Kelly, “but I’m really not worried about it anymore. I feel like this is a healing process for me, because I’ve been holding this in for so many years, and to see that he always gets away with it, it’s just not right.”
Maeve McDermott, USA TODAY