NEW YORK — R. Kelly's defense team continued cross-examining the second accuser in the R&B singer's sex trafficking trial on Wednesday, grilling her about letters in which she defended Kelly and accused her parents of using her "vagina" to extract money from him and "destroy" his career.
On Day 6 of the trial in federal court in Brooklyn, Kelly's defense attorney Deveraux Cannick resumed questioning the witness, asking her to read letters she wrote to members of her family during her time living with Kelly as one of his girlfriends. The letters were introduced as evidence.
“You decided to join in to get some money,” according to one letter she read aloud and addressed to her father. “None of you gave interviews for free.” In another letter, she accused her mother of telling Kelly that since he was sleeping with her daughter, "you need to send $10,000 to this bank account every month.”
In a letter to her brother, she listed actions their parents allegedly put her up to in order to get money from Kelly, including telling her to lie about her age to him and to police.
“They were trying to set him up,” the letter says. “Brother, I’m telling you the truth, I cannot make this up."
In the same letter, she wrote, “My own parents were using me and my vagina to get money. ...They were going to destroy R. Kelly’s career.”
Accuser's letters come into question
But on re-direct questioning by prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes, the witness claimed that Kelly told her to write those letters to her family. She insisted the letters were intended by Kelly to protect himself from potential charges.
R. Kelly trial, Day 5:Woman says star forced her to have sex with another man, lie to defend him
Whose idea was the content of those letters and who told her what to write, Geddes asked in a series of questions. "The defendant," the witness answered. Why? "To protect him in a trial like this?” Geddes asked. “Yes,” she said.
Geddes fired off more questions to move the focus from the witness' parents back to Kelly.
Who, Geddes asked, exposed you to an STD? Who made you write letters? Who gave you spankings every two to three days? Who called those spankings "chastisement"? Who made you stay on a tour bus for days? Who made you have sexual contact with other females? Who made you have sex with a man you never met before named Nephew?
Was it your parents or the defendant, Geddes asked after each question. The witness, by this time crying, answered, “The defendant” to each question.
The witness, now 23, testified as "Jane." Based on court documents and the opening statement by prosecutors last week, she appears to be Jane Doe #5, one of the six complaining witnesses against Kelly at his trial.
Friend reveals text messages on the stand
Later Wednesday, the prosecution called a friend of the witness, Malak Benabdallah, to the stand; she said she was subpoenaed to testify. She described herself as an Orlando-area high school friend to the witness, and her testimony appeared aimed at depicting the kind of control Kelly exercised over "Jane."
Benabdallah testified that the witness stopped communicating with her after she left to be with Kelly, only occasionally sending text messages (which were introduced as evidence) in which she said such things as she was "scared to have an abortion," according to Benabdallah.
Another time, Benabdallah sent the witness a video of herself and another friend in the school lunchroom, to “remind her of things we used to do.” But the witness asked her not to do that because "(Kelly) checks my phone.” The friend testified that the witness told Kelly Benabdallah was her cousin and she worried he would find out she wasn't.
“I just don’t want to have to block your number," the text entered into evidence said. “Don’t want to ruin the one shot I have at being able to talk to you.”
On cross-examination, Cannick asked whether Benabdallah had any way to verify if these texts allegedly sent from the witness were true or not. She said she didn't know.
Witness testifies of a forced abortion
The woman testifying as Jane described Tuesday how Kelly abused her physically and sexually during their years together, about how he forced her to have sex with another man, coerced her into an abortion and continued a sexual relationship with her even though she eventually told him she was underage and still in high school.
On cross-examination Tuesday, she testified about friendly letters she wrote to Kelly in which she recalled happy memories with him. In one letter after they separated, she wrote that she could no longer be so closely associated with him in the wake of the January 2019 "Surviving R. Kelly" TV series, which examined his alleged abuse of women and girls.
“I will have to support you privately, not publicly,” the letter said. “And I will always love and support you, Bear. … Just know I’m always here, I have no bad feelings, Bear.”
The trial will continue Thursday but will take Friday off, according to U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly.
In her testimony Tuesday, the witness "Jane" identified herself as one of two women living with Kelly at his Chicago Trump Tower condo until the end of 2019. She said she made her first public appearance concerning Kelly when she participated in an interview CBS anchor Gayle King conducted with Kelly. At the time, King also interviewed two women identified as Kelly's live-in girlfriends.
King's on-camera encounter with Kelly turned out to be shattering for him when he became enraged and dissolved into hysterics, screaming and crying while under King's questioning about the sexual abuse allegations raised against him in the Lifetime TV docuseries.
What's happened in the R. Kelly trial so far?
Kelly, 54, is facing multiple charges of sex-trafficking and racketeering dating back decades and involving six women. Jane Doe #5 is one of those complaining witnesses and testified on Tuesday that Kelly made his girlfriends practice answering questions about him, in an effort to better defend him during his volatile CBS interview.
She also alleged Kelly chastised or punished her for various reasons during their time together, including forcing her to have sex with another man while Kelly recorded it on an iPad. She wept when she testified that she contracted herpes after sex with Kelly. She said Kelly hadn't disclosed that he had a sexually transmitted disease.
Jerhonda Johnson Pace, another complaining witness and the first Kelly accuser to testify at the trial (who has previously shared her story publicly), said she had sex with the singer when she was 16, although she initially told him she was 19, which is over the age of consent.
Pace testified she had to be granted permission by the singer to use the bathroom and that Kelly sometimes recorded their frequent sex sessions and would later show the recordings to her to point out where she could use “improvement.” She said she "ended up contracting herpes" while she was with Kelly in 2009.
Kelly's former primary care doctor, Kris McGrath, testified under subpoena that he was Kelly's doctor for 25 years until 2019. McGrath said he diagnosed Kelly with genital herpes, informed the star and told him to tell his sexual partners. He said he'd been prescribing Valtrex for Kelly since at least 2007, but could not say specifically when he concluded Kelly actually had herpes.
Kelly's former assistant and tour manager, Demetrius Smith, testified under subpoena and immunity from prosecution that he helped facilitate Kelly's illegal 1994 marriage to the late singer Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time.
The government accuses Kelly of leading "a criminal enterprise" of managers, bodyguards and other employees who allegedly helped Kelly to recruit women and underage girls for sex and pornography, and to cross state lines for that purpose.
He is also accused in the two-year-old indictment of bribery, kidnapping, forced labor, producing child pornography and knowingly infecting some victims with a sexually transmitted disease.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org/online and receive confidential support.
Contributing: Cydney Henderson, The Associated Press