Entertainment & Arts

R. Kelly: The history of allegations against him

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

image source, Getty Images
image captionR Kelly has been plagued by accusations of sexual misconduct since the 1990s

For more than two decades, R&B singer R. Kelly has faced allegations of sexual abuse.

The stories go back to the start of his career in the 1990s, with many centring around the alleged predatory pursuit of teenage girls.

He is currently facing multiple state and federal charges in the US, and is accused of racketeering, sexual abuse and bribery; charges which he has repeatedly denied

The trial has now begun at a court in Brooklyn, New York.

Kelly was himself the victim of child sex abuse, and detailed in his autobiography how he was raped by a female family member when he was eight years old.

Here is a history of the accusations against him.

1994: Marries Aaliyah

The star, then aged 27, marries 15-year-old singer Aaliyah at a secret ceremony in Chicago.

Vibe magazine later discovered that Aaliyah had lied on the wedding certificate about her age, listing herself as 18. The marriage was annulled in February 1995.

For the rest of her career, Aaliyah dodged questions about the nature of her relationship. “When people ask me, I tell them, ‘Hey, don’t believe all that mess,'” she told one interviewer. “We’re close and people took it the wrong way.”

Kelly has rarely spoken about Aaliyah since she died in a plane crash in 2001. She is not mentioned in his autobiography, where an author’s note explains “certain episodes could not be included for complicated reasons”.

In a 2016 interview with GQ magazine, he described their relationship as “best best best best friends”; but declined to comment on their marriage, saying: “I will never have that conversation with anyone. Out of respect for Aaliyah, and her mother and father who has asked me not to personally.”

image source, Getty Images
image captionKelly wrote and produced Aaliyah’s debut album, calling it Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number

1996: Sued for emotional distress

Tiffany Hawkins sues R. Kelly for the “personal injuries and emotional distress” she suffered during a three-year relationship with the star.

In court documents, she said she began having sex with Kelly in 1991, when she was 15 and he was 24, and the relationship ended three years later, when she turned 18. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Hawkins sought $10 million in damages, but accepted a fraction of that amount ($250,000) when the case was settled in 1998.

Kelly’s spokeswoman said she had “no knowledge” of the accusations.

image source, Getty Images
image captionKelly continued to release successful songs, and win major awards, as accusations accumulated around him

2001: Sued by intern

Tracy Sampson sues R. Kelly, accusing him of inducing her “into an indecent sexual relationship” when she was 17 years old.

The woman, a former intern at Epic Records, claimed she was “treated as his personal sex object and cast aside”.

“He often tried to control every aspect of my life including who I would see and where I would go,” she said in her legal case against him. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, said the New York Post.

April and May 2002: Two more court cases

Kelly is sued for a third time by Patrice Jones, a Chicago woman who claims he impregnated her when she was underage, and that she was forced to have an abortion.

A woman named Montina Woods also sued Kelly, alleging that he videotaped them having sex without her knowledge. The recording was allegedly circulated on an R Kelly “sex tape” sold by bootleggers under the title R. Kelly Triple-X.

The star settled both cases out of court, paying an undisclosed sum in return for a non-disclosure agreement.

June 2002: Charged over child pornography

The star is charged with 21 counts of making child pornography, involving intercourse, oral sex, urination, and other sexual acts.

Chicago police accused him of videotaping each of these acts and enticing a minor to participate in them. All of the charges related to one girl, born in September 1984.

His arrest stemmed from a video which was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun Times earlier in the year. They passed it on to police, who verified the authenticity of the tape with help from FBI forensic experts.

Kelly, who posted $750,000 bail, immediately denied the charges in an interview with MTV and later pleaded not guilty in court.

It took six years for the case to come to trial, during which time Kelly released his wildly successful Trapped In The Closet album; and was nominated for an Image Award by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), prompting widespread criticism.

The jury eventually concluded they could not prove that the girl on the tape was a minor, and Kelly was found not guilty on all counts.

2002 – 2004: Arrest prompts further charges

Kelly is charged with a further 12 counts of making child pornography in Florida, where he was arrested at his holiday home.

These charges came after police seized a camera during the arrest, which allegedly contained images of the star having sex with an underage girl.

The charges were dropped when a judge agreed with Kelly’s defence team that police lacked sufficient evidence to justify a search.

July 2017: Allegations of a “cult”

A long and detailed Buzzfeed report accuses R. Kelly of trapping six women in a sex “cult”.

The article alleges that Kelly seduced young women when they approached him for help with their music careers, before taking control of their lives – dictating “what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records”.

The star also confiscated the women’s mobile phones, the report says, barring contact with friends and family.

The allegations came from three former employees and the parents of several women, who said their daughters had all but vanished.

Kelly strenuously denies the story which was written by Jim DeRogatis, who has doggedly covered the allegations against the singer for two decade.

All of the women cited in the article were of legal age; one later denied claims that she was being held against her will.

“I’m not being brainwashed or anything like that,” said 21-year-old Joycelyn Savage in a video call to TMZ. However, she would not reveal where she was speaking from, nor the nature of her relationship with Kelly.

R. Kelly’s lawyer, Linda Mensch, also issued a strongly-worded denial, saying the star was “alarmed and disturbed at the recent revelations” and would “work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name”.

2017 – 2018: Victims approach the press

Buzzfeed’s report prompts further allegations.

Jerhonda Pace breaks a non-disclosure agreement to speak about having sex with Kelly while she was underage. Another woman, Kitti Jones, claims the star starved her, coerced her into sexual encounters with other women and physically abused her.

Kitti, along with other members of R. Kelly’s inner circle, also spoke to a BBC Three documentary in March 2018. One former friend and collaborator, Lovell Jones, said that Kelly asked him to scout out women “that looked young” at parties, and claimed that it was “common knowledge” that the singer preferred young girls.

Again, Kelly denied the allegations.

2018: #MuteRKelly, staff departures and new court case

The #MuteRKelly campaign lobbies record label RCA to sever ties with the singer. They also target concert promoters, tickets sellers and streaming services – with Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora all agreeing to demote Kelly’s songs from their playlists (a decision that is later reversed).

Around the same time, the star’s lawyer, publicist and personal assistant all quit – although attorney Linda Mensch said her departure was “unrelated to any allegations related to Mr Kelly’s social life.”

Kelly continued to perform live despite protests outside his shows; and was filmed saying the campaign against him was “too late”.

Meanwhile, the star was sued by a former partner who said he “intentionally” infected her with a sexually transmitted disease.

A representative for Kelly said he “categorically denies all claims and allegations”.

The star later baited his critics by releasing a song called I Admit, in which he confessed to being sexually unfaithful and documented his own experience of abuse – but denied accusations of paedophilia and operating a sex cult.

“Only God can mute me,” he sang defiantly. “Am I supposed to go to jail or lose my career because of your opinion?”

2019: New documentary leads to charges

Over the course of six hour-long episodes, the Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly presents the most comprehensive look yet at the allegations against the musician.

The final two segments are particularly harrowing, featuring stark testimony from his accusers, and footage of parents attempting to rescue daughters they haven’t seen for years. While many of the stories are familiar, the documentary rams home the argument that Kelly was enabled by those around him.

“That’s the way it was,” said his former tour manager Demetrius Smith. “We worked for him. This is what he wanted and so this is what we were supposed to give him.”

Two weeks after the programme is broadcast, Kelly is dropped by his record company. Planned concerts in the US and New Zealand are cancelled.

In February, celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti says he has obtained a video showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Weeks later, the star is charged in Chicago with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He pleads not guilty and defends himself in a histrionic TV interview.

media captionR. Kelly in tearful sex abuse charges interview

Prosecutors later file an additional 11 charges of sexual assault and abuse against a minor aged between 13 and 16.

The charging documents describe sex and oral sex with a minor “by the use of force or threat of force”. The accuser is thought to be one of the women featured in Surviving R Kelly, who says she met the singer during his 2008 child pornography trial.

July 2019: Sex Trafficking charges

image source, Reuters
image captionR. Kelly appears for a hearing at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois, on 26 June

In July, Kelly is hit with two separate federal indictments in Illinois and Brooklyn.

Combined, the allegations depict an organised effort from the star and his associates to recruit and transport underage girls over state lines for illegal sexual purposes, including the production of child pornography, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying evidence and bribing or threatening witnesses.

Kelly’s lawyer Steve Greenberg says in a statement that his client was “aware of the investigations and the charges were not a surprise”.

He adds that the R&B singer would “look forward to his day in court, to the truth coming out and to his vindication from what has been an unprecedented assault by others for their own personal gain”.

Appearing in court in New York at the start of August, the star pleads not guilty, but is denied bail on the grounds that he poses a flight risk.

Days later, prosecutors in Minnesota file prostitution charges against the star, meaning he faces criminal cases in three US states.

August 2019: Bail denied

The star’s application for bail is denied by a federal judge in Brooklyn, citing “the strong possibility of witness tampering” in the singer’s upcoming trial.

Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione says he is “extremely troubled” by the potential for witness tampering after prosecutors claim Kelly paid off witnesses, and said they could be “subject to physical harm” during his 2008 trial.

Kelly’s lawyer denied the accusations, saying: “The witness just decided that they weren’t going to testify”.

March 2020: Trial delayed

Kelly’s Chicago trial is delayed by six months, after prosecutors seize more than 100 electronic devices, including smartphones, iPads and hard drives from a storage facility holding the star’s tour equipment.

Prosecutors also update the charges against the star, to “add yet another victim” to the list of allegations.

They offer little detail about the new alleged victim, referred to as “Minor Six”, but say the person met Kelly in the late 1990s at the age of 14 or 15.

Kelly pleads not guilty to all of the charges.

August 2020: Witness tampering

In August, three of Kelly’s associates are charged with attempting to intimidate, harass or pay off alleged victims in the racketeering case against the singer.

Prosecutors say one victim was offered $500,000 (£376,300) to buy her silence, although no money was ultimately exchanged. Another was threatened with the release of sexually explicit photos, and a third woke up to find her car had been set alight in her driveway.

The charges, filed in New York, do not indicate whether Kelly authorised the actions – and the star’s lawyer denies any involvement.

However one of the men, Michael Williams, pleads guilty to setting fire to a car outside the home of Kelly’s ex-girlfriend.

Another, Richard Arline Jr, pleads guilty to trying to bribe a witness who was set to testify against the star.

August – September 2020: Prison assault

Towards the end of August, Kelly is attacked in his sleep by a fellow inmate in Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Centre.

The star’s lawyer calls for his immediate release, saying “the government cannot ensure his safety”. However, the request – along with numerous other attempts to get Kelly released on bail – is denied.

A gang member who claims responsibility for the assault is later sentenced to life in prison on separate charges, and is moved to another jail in Michigan.

June 2021: Legal team replaced

Two months before his trial is due to begin, Kelly’s long-term lawyers ask to withdraw from the case.

Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard say it is “impossible” for them to work alongside a pair of new lawyers the star has hired.

“It’s unfortunate because these other people are clueless,” Greenberg tells the New York Times. “But that’s his choice. You can’t save someone from themselves.”

August 2021: Aaliyah relationship confirmed

In the last pre-trial hearing before Kelly’s trial, US District Judge Ann M. Donnelly makes a series of rulings to narrow down what evidence can be shown to jurors.

During the hearing, she asks one of the singer’s lawyers whether they denied the star had sexual relations with Aaliyah while she was underage.

According to the Associated Press, Thomas A Farinella “let out a deep sigh and responded, ‘No.'”

He later confirms this statement to The Independent, writing: “The defence does concede that Mr Kelly had underage sexual contact with Jane Doe #1.”

Separately, the judge rules that members of the public and the media will be banned from the courtroom, citing coronavirus restrictions. A viewing feed will be provided in separate rooms.

The trial began on 18 August in New York, and if the singer is convicted on all counts he could be sentenced to several decades in prison.

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