She’s been described over several weeks of testimony as a Christian singer and a point guard, a participant in three-way sex and as the goddaughter to one of the music industry’s biggest stars.
Even the family of the alleged victim in the R. Kelly child pornography trial doesn’t seem to agree about her, especially about whether she’s on a 27-minute sex tape that could send the R&B star to prison for up to 15 years if convicted.
Defense attorneys for the singer rested their case in the Chicago trial Monday without calling any witnesses for the day. Jurors sat in court for just several minutes before Judge Vincent Gaughan sent them home. They’ll be back in court Tuesday, when prosecutors plan to call two rebuttal witnesses. Closing arguments are likely to begin Thursday.
The alleged victim says it’s not her on the tape. So testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses has sometimes painted contrasting pictures of the person who once called Kelly her “godfather.”
Four family members have testified for the prosecution that she is the person on the tape; three have testified for the defense that she’s not.
Asked by prosecutors whether the family has “split in half as a result of this incident,” one relative, Leroy Edwards Jr., answered softly, “Yes.”
Kelly, 41, has pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of child pornography. His lawyers say it’s neither him nor the alleged victim on the tape, suggesting the images could have been computer-generated — possibly in a bid to extort money from the singer.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of videotaping himself having sex with a female prosecutors say was at young as 13. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Last week, relatives of the alleged victim testified. Some said that they recognized the person on the tape, and others said they did not.
Prosecutors say she was as young as 13 when the tape was made. Now 23, the woman has been identified at the trial, but The Associated Press does not name suspected victims of child pornography in most cases. She has not spoken publicly about the case.
Photographs of her when she was about 13 show a short, smiling, cherub-faced girl. In pictures shown to jurors, she’s in uniform after basketball games, her arms around other players. Prosecutors also played a music video featuring the girl and three other teens in a R&B-tinged musical group that toured Europe several times in the ’90s.
No one questions that Kelly and the alleged victim knew each other.
‘She was a very jolly person’
Singer Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards, best known for the 1998 duet “Be Careful” with Kelly and is a relative of the alleged victim, introduced her to Kelly at a music studio when the girl was around 13 and Kelly was around 30, Edwards testified.
“He liked her spirit,” a teary-eyed Edwards told jurors. “She was a very jolly person.” The girl was fond of Kelly “as a father figure,” recalled Edwards, adding she didn’t suspect a sexual relationship until news broke years later about the tape.
Sometime after meeting Kelly, the alleged victim began telling her friends and acquaintances he was her godfather, her childhood friend Simha Jamison testified. Jamison, now a 24-year-old hair stylist, also told jurors that Kelly frequently gave her friend cash gifts and the two teens would go on shopping sprees with the money.
Some of the testimony has focused on her physical features.
A middle school basketball coach said he recognized the alleged victim as the female in the tape by her high forehead, saying he and her friends would joke with her about it.
“You were joking about a seventh grade girl having a big forehead?” defense attorney Marc Martin snapped at Joel Rhea, sounding incredulous. “The kids were,” Rhea responded.
A relative testifying for the defense, Charlotte Edwards, told jurors the female in the video couldn’t be the alleged victim because the breasts of that person were too large.
Defense has not said if victim will testify
Prosecution witness Lisa Van Allen, 27, told jurors she had three-way sex with Kelly and the alleged victim several times, starting in 1998. During one encounter in a trailer at the set of a music-video shoot, the alleged victim “had to run into the bathroom naked” when someone came to the door because Kelly didn’t want others to see her there, Van Allen testified.
Prosecutors said they would not ask the alleged victim to testify. The defense hasn’t said whether they will, though Kelly attorney Sam Adam Jr. asked jurors in opening statements why prosecutors chose not to call her.
“One answer,” he said, his voice booming. “One: It’s not her on that tape.”
To bolster their argument that the female on the tape and the alleged victim couldn’t be the same person, the defense has taken frequent opportunities to praise her character.
“(She) is as sweet, as nice and as lovely a person there is,” Adam said during opening arguments.
He juxtaposed that image with the female in the video, who takes money from the man before having sex with him. “The woman on that tape is getting paid,” he said. “The woman is a prostitute, not a victim.”
Another Kelly attorney, Ed Genson, made a similar point when he cross-examined prosecution witness Bennie Edwards Jr., another relative and a member of the alleged victim’s music group.
Asked if the way the female acted in the video bore any resemblance to the alleged victim as he knew her, Edwards shook his head: “It’s not her character at all.”