A mother whose daughter prosecutors say R. Kelly sexually abused starting when she was 14 told jurors Monday at the singer’s federal trial that she lied to a state grand jury 20 years ago, in part because she and her husband felt threatened by Kelly and feared for their lives if they told the truth.
The mom, who used the pseudonym, “Susan,” in court at the trial in Chicago, described how she, her husband and Kelly were crying when the parents confronted the Grammy-winner at a hotel in the early 2000s about whether he was abusing their daughter. She testified they were startled when Kelly told them, “You are with us or against us.”
She said she took those words to mean “that they were going to harm us if we didn’t do what they wanted us to do.” Among the directives from Kelly and an associate was that they had to lie that their daughter was not in a child pornography video and that they had to leave the country immediately for several weeks, she testified.
“We were very, very frightened,” she told jurors.
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She added later that she lied to the grand jury “because we feared for our lives and we were intimidated.” She said she also feared for the well-being of her daughter, who warned her parents at the time that she might commit suicide if they refused to do what Kelly asked them to do.
Kelly, 55, is on trial in his hometown on charges that include production of child pornography, enticing minor girls for sex and obstruction justice by successfully rigging his 2008 child pornography trial in state court, at which he was acquitted.
Kelly is already staring at a 30-year prison sentence imposed by a federal judge in New York in June for his 2021 convictions on racketeering and sex trafficking charges.
Susan’s daughter, who went by the pseudonym “Jane,” was among the prosecution’s first witnesses as the trial began last week. Jane told jurors that she also lied to the same grand jury prior to 2008 trial when she said she was not the 14-year-old girl in a video with Kelly. Jane, now 37, told jurors last week that, in fact, she had been sexually abused hundreds of times by Kelly before she had turned at 18.
On Monday, in an often contentious cross-examination, Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean repeatedly questioned Susan about whether she truly felt her life was in any danger from Kelly or his associates.
“No one actually threatened you, did they?” Bonjean asked.
“Yes, they did,” Susan answered.
Bonjean also asked why, if Susan felt so threatened by Kelly, she and her family continued to mix with Kelly socially for the next 20 years. She answered that Kelly was their sole income for a period, paying her musician husband to work on Kelly recordings. She also said she worried about Jane’s welfare if they cut ties with Kelly.
The husband, Jane’s father, died last year, she told jurors.
During her cross, Bonjean highlighted Susan’s testimony that she lied to the Illinois grand jury, asking if she was “telling the truth now.” Susan said she was.
Prosecutors from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office chose in the mid-2000s to push ahead with charges and to take the case to trial in 2008 despite what they knew was a major hurdle: their inability to call the girl in the video to testify.
After acquitting Kelly in the 2008 trial, some jurors told reporters that they had no choice but to find Kelly not guilty because the girl — who by then was in her 20s — did not take the witness stand to confirm it was, in fact, her in the video.
Federal prosecutors at the current trial played excerpts of that and other videos they say show Kelly when he was around 30 sexually abusing a 14-year-old Jane.
Kelly has been trailed for decades by allegations about his sexual behavior. The scrutiny intensified during the #MeToo era and following the 2019 release of the Lifetime television docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.”