Jurors see videos at center of R. Kelly child pornography trial

Court officials turned off extra monitors and used black curtains to block the public and the media from seeing the videos — and the jury — while they were played.

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R. Kelly talks to a supporter as he walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019.

R. Kelly talks to a supporter as he walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in June 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Federal prosecutors played graphic videos for jurors Friday, allegedly depicting R&B superstar R. Kelly sexually abusing a teenage girl in the 1990s, as the first week of his latest trial in Chicago came to an end.

The feds stressed to the jury earlier this week the importance of viewing the videos, while acknowledging they would be tough to watch. But unlike in Kelly’s child pornography trial in 2008, court officials also went to great lengths Friday to make sure no one else caught a glimpse. They turned off extra monitors and used black curtains to block the public and the media from seeing the videos — and the jury — while they were played.

Still, the audio could be heard inside the wood-paneled ceremonial courtroom of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Amid the typical sounds of sex acts, a female voice could be heard repeatedly referring to her “14-year-old” body.

A woman using the pseudonym “Jane” testified Thursday that the three videos introduced as evidence depict Kelly sexually abusing her when she was 14 years old. One of the three videos became central to Kelly’s 2008 trial, but the woman declined to testify then. Kelly was found not guilty. 

R. Kelly Chicago Trial

Full coverage of R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago:

Fourteen years later, Kelly is facing charges in Chicago’s federal courthouse alleging child pornography, obstruction of justice and the enticement of minors into criminal sexual activity. The feds say he cheated his way to an acquittal in 2008, including by intimidating Jane and her family into denying Kelly had sexually abused her.

Kelly is already serving a 30-year federal prison sentence for his conviction on racketeering charges last year in New York. Friday’s proceedings marked the end of the first week of his new trial, which has so far featured eight witnesses. It is expected to last a month.

Prosecutors repeatedly asked U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to clear the courtroom where Kelly’s trial is taking place in order to make sure no member of the public saw the videos, which they repeatedly referred to as “contraband.” But Leinenweber resisted, acknowledging the right of the public and press to view the trial.

The videos played to the jury Friday are central pieces of evidence against Kelly.

Rather than play the three videos in full, prosecutors played 17 shorter clips for the jury. Throughout, two voices belonging to a male and a female could be heard. The female repeatedly referred to the male as “Daddy” and at one point asks, “Daddy, do you still love me?” The male replied, “Of course.”

Their voices could rarely be heard when prosecutors played clips from the video central to the 2008 trial — a home loan commercial played in the background, followed by a Backstreet Boys song.

Jane testified Thursday that the sexual abuse depicted in the videos included oral sex. In the video from the 2008 trial and one other, she said Kelly could be seen urinating on her. In one video, she said she was drinking Champagne.

Early in the video from the 2008 trial, Kelly can allegedly be seen handing her dollar bills. Asked why, Jane testified, “If anybody saw the tape or if it was released for some reason, he wanted it to appear as if I was a prostitute.”

After prosecutors played the videos Friday, defense attorneys questioned Melissa Siffermann, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations. Their inquiries seemed designed to cast doubt on the origins of the videos.

The video from the 2008 trial was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times in February 2002. The newspaper then turned it over to police.

Before the jurors viewed the videos Friday, they watched as Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean cross-examined Jane. Now 37, Jane said she believed it was her aunt, Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards, who released the video to the Sun-Times in 2002.

Jane also testified Friday that she spent the time during Kelly’s 2008 trial in hotels or at Kelly’s home in Olympia Fields.

Bonjean pointed to text messages between Kelly and Jane sent in early 2019. That’s when the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” premiered, setting off a new round of legal trouble for the singer. Bonjean also raised questions earlier this week as to why Jane finally decided to testify against Kelly after decades of denials.

In one text exchange with Kelly in January 2019, Jane allegedly asked “where are you,” “don’t do this,” “respond to me,” and “I [love] you don’t let the devil win.” Kelly allegedly replied, “Sorry. Ok. Major breakdown but now I’m on a major build up.” Jane allegedly wrote, “Yes … I had one too.”

Then, on Feb. 14, 2019, Jane allegedly texted Kelly, “I need to speak with you ASAP” and “You need to call me right away or I’m making decisions on my own.” 

Five months later, following Kelly’s arrest by federal authorities in July 2019, a prosecutor revealed to a judge that Jane had “gone on record” and agreed to cooperate with the feds.

Jane denied to Bonjean on Friday that she had struck any deals to profit off her testimony. She acknowledged her involvement in a collaboration between a nonprofit and Grey Goose Vodka, but did not share additional details.

Bonjean also asked Jane whether she intends to seek restitution from Kelly if he’s convicted in his latest trial. Jane said she’s still undecided.

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