Relatives Deny Alleged Victim Is the Girl on R. Kelly Tape
Thursday, June 5, 2008
CHICAGO, June 4 -- Exhibited side by side, the two photographs looked similar. Each showed the profile of a girl, each with a similarly arched eyebrow, a chubby cheek, hair cut in the same distinctive wedge above the ear. Defense witness Leroy Edwards Jr. firmly identified one of the photographs as a picture he took in 1998 or 1999 of the alleged victim in the child pornography trial of singer R. Kelly.
Then Edwards was asked about the second photo -- a still taken from the 26-minute video that prosecutors say Kelly made of himself having sex with the alleged victim, who was no older than 14 at the time. This time Edwards hesitated, then said he didn't know the girl in that photo.
Edwards, a relative of the alleged victim, was one of a phalanx of family members who led off the defense in Kelly's case Wednesday, each of them swearing they did not recognize the girl in the tape. (The alleged victim, who is now 23, also denies it.) Several also testified they did not recognize the man in the video; all of them have met Kelly numerous times.
Kelly, 41 and facing up to 15 years in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty to making the tape and denies being the man in the video. He sat quietly through the day's proceedings, his brow often furrowed.
Edwards was the manager of a band that included the alleged victim and other young relatives. Witnesses have testified that Kelly gave the band members tips, watched them audition at his Chicago studio and attended a performance they did at a Chicago high school in 1996, when the alleged victim was 12 years old. The album notes on their 1998 CD include a special thank-you to Kelly.
In Wednesday's testimony, band member Shonna Edwards was asked if the alleged victim's body had been as "fully developed" and "mature" as the girl in the video. "Not even close," said Shonna Edwards, who shared a hotel room with the alleged victim during trips to perform in Europe.
Leroy Edwards downplayed the extent of Kelly's interaction with the band. He said the alleged victim had a "close friendship" with Kelly, but denied that she had spent time alone at his studio with him.
Edwards testified that the charges against Kelly have split what used to be a close-knit extended family that spent Sundays together at his mother's house. Previously, Leroy Edwards's sister, Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards -- a former R. Kelly protege -- testified that the alleged victim was indeed the girl in the pornographic video.
Also Wednesday, the defense sought to discredit Monday's star witness, Lisa Van Allen, who testified she had three-way sexual encounters with Kelly and the alleged victim. Van Allen, 27, said she met Kelly as a performer on his video shoot, when she was 17, and maintained a relationship with him for years. She testified that one three-way was aborted when she burst into tears.
Defense witness Jason Wallace, a clerk for the father-son defense attorneys Sam Adam Jr. and Sr., said he and Sam Adam Jr. traveled to Atlanta to meet with Van Allen and her boyfriend Yul Brown on May 9, the same day jury selection started. Wallace testified that Brown, who has a federal fraud conviction, patted the men down to make sure they weren't recording the conversation before implying that Van Allen could be convinced not to testify.
Wallace said Brown told them, "We know Lisa's name will be dragged through the mud. Kelly knows what he has to do to make this thing right."
Under cross-examination, Wallace acknowledged that it was the defense team who initiated the contact. Wallace said Van Allen hardly uttered a word during the meeting, and the talking was all done by Brown.
Rumors had swirled about Kelly's interest in underage girls for some time before the indictment. In 1994, he married the then-15-year-old singer Aaliyah Haughton, a union soon annulled by her parents. He also produced her debut album, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number." Before the current indictment, two girls sued him alleging he had sex with them when they were under 18.
In 2000, Jim DeRogatis, a pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, published lengthy articles exploring Kelly's interactions with girls. In February 2002, the videotape showed up anonymously in DeRogatis's mailbox, and he turned it over to Chicago police soon after.
On Tuesday, DeRogatis angered Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan by failing to show up to testify; his lawyers said he never received the subpoena. On Wednesday, DeRogatis testified but invoked reporters' privilege and the First and Fifth amendments in answer to all questions. Gaughan decided that reporters' privilege and the First Amendment right to free speech would not be relevant in this case, but allowed the writer to plead the Fifth in order not to incriminate himself in a case involving the viewing and possession of alleged child pornography.