Accused sexual abuser R. Kelly once compared himself to Jerry Lee Lewis – a singer notorious for marrying his 13-year-old cousin decades ago – saying they were both geniuses, a witness at Kelly’s Brooklyn trial testified Thursday.
A woman who only went by ‘Stephanie’ said she was 17 during her six-month relationship in 1999 with the then 32-year-old Kelly.
She testified about remembering a conversation with the R&B artist and two others when he said he preferred ‘young girls’ and questioned why ‘people make such a big deal of it.’
‘Look at Jerry Lee Lewis,’ she said, quoting Kelly, now 54, as saying, referring to the influential rock and roll pioneer who controversially married his 13-year-old second cousin in the 1950s.
R. Kelly, seen here in a court sketch at federal trial in Brooklyn, once compared himself to Jerry Lee Lewis – a singer notorious for marrying his 13-year-old cousin decades ago
‘He’s a genius and I’m a genius. We should be able to do whatever we want,’ Kelly is alleged to have said.
‘Look at what we give the world.’
Lewis is credited with helping create rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and achieving stardom with hits like ‘Great Balls of Fire.’
But his marriage to his cousin Myra Gale Brown caused a scandal that has dogged him through the rest of his career. In 1970, Brown filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery and abuse, charging that she had been ‘subject to every type of physical and mental abuse imaginable.’
Stephanie, now 39, is the third accuser to take the stand against Kelly, who’s on trial in Brooklyn federal court for racketeering, sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping, bribery and forced labor between 1994 and 2018.
Lewis’ marriage to his cousin Myra Gale Brown caused a scandal that has dogged him through the rest of his career
Stephanie said she first met Kelly at the infamous Rock N’ Roll McDonald’s in Chicago.
She claimed that a man came up to her and asked her age. She responded that she was 16.
The man then pointed to Kelly, who was sitting in the booth nearest to the register, and asked whether she knew who he was. She said yes.
The man allegedly gave Stephanie a piece of paper with Kelly’s phone number on it, and told her to call him.
She claimed she threw it away and didn’t see him until a year later, when he was holding a promotional event at a Nike store near where she worked. She said she approached him hoping he could help her friend, an aspiring singer.
That help never came but Stephanie and Kelly soon after began a sexual relationship, with the superstar brushing it off when told him she was only 17, according to her testimony.
A woman who only went by ‘Stephanie’ said she was 17 during her six-month relationship in 1999 with the then 32-year-old Kelly
She described sex with Kelly as ‘humiliating,’ describing in lurid detail his demands, and claiming he routinely filmed their sexual encounters.
‘He was one of two ways: nice and charming, jovial. Or he was controlling, intimidating, he could put the fear of God in me,’ Stephanie said. ‘He humiliated me, he degraded me, he scared me.’
He once forced her to perform oral sex on him in a vehicle with others in the car, she said, and sometimes left her naked and alone in rooms for hours.
‘He could put the fear of God in me very quickly,’ she said, saying she performed sex acts because ‘I didn’t feel like I had a choice,’ saying she’d suffered past abuse both at home and by a former boss. She also said she feared what the singer would do with their sex tapes.
Kelly allegedly met Stephanie and many of his other victims at Chicago’s famous ‘Rock N’ Roll McDonald’s’
Around the time she turned 18, Stephanie said she decided to stop seeing Kelly: ‘I felt used and humiliated and degraded.’
‘I just didn’t want to be abused anymore.’
Later on, Stephanie said she would sometimes wait for him for hours at his studio, before he eventually emerged and they had sex.
On cross-examination, Kelly’s lawyer Nicole Blank Becker tried to emphasize it was Stephanie’s decision to stay with Kelly, and Stephanie agreed when asked if she could have simply walked away.
Becker asked Stephanie whether Kelly had physically abused her. Stephanie said no.
Becker then tried to suggest that she engaged in a sexual relationship willingly with the singer, and that she didn’t remember everything correctly.
On re-direct examination, the prosecution asked her whether there were things she would never forget. She answered yes.
When asked why she would never forget them, Stephanie put her face in her hands and started crying.
‘Because that was the lowest time in my life. I’ve never been treated like that before or since,’ she said. ‘I’ll never forget the way he treated me.’
Many accusations of sex-related misconduct were discussed in the 2019 Lifetime documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly.’
Several witnesses have testified that Kelly demanded strict obedience from those around him, with Stephanie and other accusers saying he required that they call him ‘Daddy.’
His alleged exploitation of male and female employees has also come into question. Earlier Thursday, Tom Arnold, who worked at one of Kelly’s Chicago studios, said he eventually quit his job as studio manager because of the singer’s system for docking employee pay over such slights.
Kelly is accused of being the leader of a sex ring involving women and underage girls and boys.
Kelly is accused of being the leader of a sex ring involving women and underage girls and boys
The studio manager testified that Kelly had a strict system of fining employees for rule-breaking, with several workers losing out on money because someone ate the singer’s donuts.
Arnold, a Kelly employee since 1988, worked at the notorious Chocolate Factory since 2004 but the last straw came during what was a ‘very last-minute’ trip to Disney World in 2011.
He was told to book a tour guide for Kelly and some female guests. There was no one available and they had to book a male tour guide.
This went against Kelly’s rules, Arnold said, that prevented his girlfriends from being around other men – to the point where they couldn’t look at them in the eye if they were in the same area.
‘It needed to be a woman,’ Arnold said on the stand in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Stephanie reiterated these rules during her testimony, mentioning that at the dinner where Kelly compared himself to Jerry Lee Lewis, they were supposed to be joined by the rap duo Boo & Gotti.
She said that she was not allowed to speak to either of them.
‘I wasn’t meant to speak to any men except for Mr. Kelly,’ the 39-year-old said.
Arnold, who worked at one of Kelly’s Chicago studios, said he eventually quit his job as studio manager because of the singer’s system for docking employee pay over rule-breaking
When Kelly and his girlfriends arrived at Disney World, the singer got off the tour bus, saw the tour guide and immediately canceled the trip. He then fined Arnold $1,500, his entire paycheck for the week.
Arnold quit soon after.
Kelly, known for the Grammy-winning song ‘I Believe I Can Fly,’ has pleaded not guilty to charges that he ran a decades-long racketeering scheme in which he abused six women and girls, including Jane and the late singer Aaliyah.
He’s vehemently denied the charges, claiming that the women were groupies who wanted to take advantage of his fame and fortune.
The federal trial is expected to last several weeks and, if convicted, Kelly could face life in prison. He also faces sex-related criminal charges in Illinois and Minnesota.
Additionally, Kelly is charged in a bribery scheme after he paid a $500 bribe in 1994 in order to get breakout singer Aaliyah, who was 15, a fake ID so he could marry her. Kelly allegedly feared that he had gotten the teen pregnant.
After a day off Friday, Kelly’s trial will resume Monday in Brooklyn.
Timeline of R. Kelly’s downfall from R&B superstar to ‘sexual predator’
August 1994: At age 27, R. Kelly marries 15-year-old R&B singer Aaliyah D. Haughton. The couple weds in a secret ceremony arranged by Kelly at a hotel in Chicago. The marriage is annulled months later because of Aaliyah’s age. Aaliyah dies in a plane crash seven years later at age 22.
February 1997: Tiffany Hawkins files a complaint against Kelly alleging intentional sexual battery and sexual harassment while she was a minor. The lawsuit is reportedly settled for $250,000 the following January.
August 2001: Tracy Sampson files a lawsuit against Kelly, alleging their sex was illegal under Illinois law because he was in ‘a position of authority’ over her. The case was reportedly settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
February 2002: The Chicago Sun-Times reported that it received a videotape allegedly showing Kelly having sex with a minor. The paper reported Chicago police began investigating allegations about Kelly and the same girl three years earlier. At the time, the girl and her parents denies she was having sex with Kelly.
June 2002: Kelly is indicted in Chicago on child pornography charges stemming from the sex tape. He pleads not guilty and is released on $750,000 bail.
January 2003: Kelly is arrested at a Florida hotel on additional child pornography charges after investigators said they found photos of him having sex with a girl. Charges are later dropped after the judge ruled police didn´t have a warrant to search Kelly’s house.
September 2005: Kelly’s wife Andrea Kelly asks for an order of protection from her husband, accusing the singer of hitting her when she said she wanted a divorce. The couple confirm they have divorced in 2009.
February 2006: Kelly’s brother, Carey Kelly, says his brother offered him $50,000 and a record deal to say he was the person on the sex video.
May 2008: Kelly’s child pornography trial begins. He is acquitted on all counts the next month after less than a full day of deliberations.
July 2017: BuzzFeed reports on parents’ claims that Kelly brainwashed their daughters and was keeping them in an abusive ‘cult.’ One woman says she was with Kelly willingly. Following the BuzzFeed report, activists launched the #MuteRKelly movement, calling for boycotts of his music.
April 2018: The Time’s Up campaign, devoted to helping women in the aftermath of sexual abuse, joins the #MuteRKelly social media campaign and pushes for further investigation into Kelly’s behavior, which had come under closer scrutiny over the previous year as women came forward accusing him of sexual coercion and physical abuse. Kelly´s camp responds: ‘We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.’
May 2018: Spotify cuts R. Kelly’s music from its playlists, citing its policy on hate content and hateful conduct. Shortly after, Apple and Pandora also stop promoting his music. Kelly’s team pushes back, noting other artists on Spotify had been accused or convicted of crimes.
The same month Faith Rodgers, 20, files a lawsuit accusing R. Kelly of sexual battery, mental and verbal abuse, and knowingly inflicting her with herpes during a yearlong relationship.
January 2019: Lifetime airs the documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly,’ which revisited old allegations against him and brought new ones into the spotlight. The series followed the BBC’s ‘R Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes,’ released the previous year, that alleged the singer was holding women against their will.
Lady Gaga apologizes for her 2013 duet with Kelly, saying she intended to remove the song, ‘Do What U Want (With My Body),’ from streaming services.
Faith Rogers says Kelly had written a letter the previous October to one of her lawyers, threatening to reveal embarrassing details of her sexual history if she didn’t drop her May 2018 lawsuit accusing him of sexual abuse.
Multiple media outlets reports Kelly and his label, Sony subsidiary RCA Records, part ways. Lady Gaga and Celine Dion remove their duets with Kelly from streaming services, and French rock band Phoenix apologizes for collaborating with Kelly in 2013. Kelly continues to deny all allegations of sexual misconduct.
February 2019: Attorney Michael Avenatti says he gave Chicago prosecutors new video evidence of Kelly having sex with an underage girl, and that it is not the same evidence used in Kelly’s 2008 trial.
Kelly is arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Kelly’s attorney enters not guilty pleas on the singer’s behalf. Hours later, Kelly posts bail and is released from jail in Chicago.
March 2019: CBS airs interview in which Kelly vehemently denied the sexual abuse charges against him. Later, authorities in Cook County take Kelly into custody after he tells a judge he couldn´t pay $161,000 in back child support he owed his children’s mother.
May 2019: Kelly is charged with 11 new sex-related counts in Chicago. They involve one of the women who accused him of sexually abusing her when she was underage.
July 2019: Kelly is indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago on charges including child pornography, enticement of a minor and obstruction of justice. A separate indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York included charges of racketeering, kidnapping, forced labor and the sexual exploitation of a child. He is again arrested in Chicago.
A federal judge orders Kelly held in jail without bond after a prosecutor warned he would pose an extreme danger to young girls if set free.
August 2019: Kelly pleads not guilty to federal charges accusing him of sexually abusing women and girls who attended his concerts, as his lawyers continue to label the alleged victims disgruntled ‘groupies.’
Kelly is charged in Minnesota with prostitution and solicitation related to an allegation that he invited a 17-year-old girl to his hotel room in 2001 and paid her $200 to dance naked with him.
October 2019: Kelly is denied bail in his New York City sex abuse case after a judge agreed with prosecutors that freeing him from jail would create a risk of him fleeing or tampering with witnesses.
December 2019: Kelly is charged by federal prosecutors with paying a bribe in exchange for a ‘fraudulent identification document’ for an unidentified female a day before he married R&B singer Aaliyah. He later pleads not guilty.
March 2020: Kelly pleads not guilty in Chicago to an updated federal indictment that included child pornography charges and allegations involving a new accuser, while prosecutors say more charges alleging yet another victim were upcoming.
August 2020: Federal prosecutors announce charges against three men accused of threatening and intimidating women who have accused R&B singer Kelly of abuse, including one man suspected of setting fire to a vehicle in Florida.
Kelly’s manager is arrested in California on charges that he threatened a shooting at a Manhattan theater two years ago, forcing an evacuation and the cancellation of the screening of a documentary addressing allegations that the singer had sexually abused women and girls.
July 2021: Federal prosecutors in Kelly´s sex trafficking case say he had sexual contact with an underage boy in addition to girls, and the government wants jurors in his upcoming trial to hear those claims.
August 2021: Kelly’s long-anticipated federal trial begins in New York with opening statements on August 18.