Fake letters and sex tapes: How R. Kelly tried to discredit and compromise his accusers
R. Kellymanufactured a trail of evidence to discredit witnesses in his sex crimes trial, they say.
- He also made them write fake letters saying they wronged him, several accusers testified.
- In June 2022, Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he was convicted of sex-trafficking.
In March 2019, as the walls closed in on R. Kelly, the R&B singer agreed to an interview with CBS' Gayle King. He told the
"I love 'em, and it's almost like they're my girlfriends. We have a relationship," he told King. "It's real. I've known guys all my life that have five or six women, OK? So don't go there on me, OK? 'Cause that's the truth."
Witnesses in R. Kelly's sex crimes trial painted a less charming picture. Accusers described in excruciating detail how the singer pursued them, sexually abused them, and kept them in cult-like conditions where they obeyed his every whim.
They also described how he kept the abuse allegations from coming out for so long.
According to prosecutors and witnesses, Kelly took meticulous steps to lay down a trail of fake evidence to discredit the people who would ultimately take the stand against him years later.
One way he did this, according to an accuser who went by "Jane," was to make his "girlfriends" write fake letters that would incriminate themselves.
"He would make us write letters," Jane said, adding: "He said that these were basically letters that would never see the light of day and that they were to basically exploit us to protect him."
On June 29, 2022, Kelly — whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly — was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he was found guilty in September of racketeering and sex-trafficking charges stemming from a decades-long practice of recruiting and grooming girls and young women for illegal sex.
Kelly made his 'girlfriends' lie in letters, accusers say
Kelly instructed his girlfriends to write the fake letters based on his attorney's advice and "because of his past," Jane testified. Kelly was tried on child pornography charges in 2009, and although he was acquitted at trial, accusations of sexual misconduct dogged him afterward.
She said Kelly made her and other accusers write "four to five" letters each, in which they'd make false confessions, beg for his forgiveness, and ask that he allow them to remain in his life. Another person in Kelly's circle would look at their signatures and check that they match the ones on their driver's licenses, she said.
"He wanted us to include letters saying that we had stolen money from him, that we had stolen watches from him, that we had been molested by family members, that we had been abused and neglected by family members and so forth," Jane testified.
Kelly would do a similar thing with videos, Jane said. If Jane had broken one of Kelly's bizarre rules — like not calling him "daddy," using the bathroom without his permission, or looking at a man — he would spank her as a "chastisement" and then "make videos as punishments" using an iPad, she said.
"There was an incident where after he had chastised me over 15 times, he had pulled out an iPad and he told me to make a video saying that my father had molested me," Jane said.
On another occasion, Kelly forced her to eat feces on video, Jane testified.
"He told me to smear it in my face and what to exactly say and to put it in my mouth and act like I liked, enjoyed that," she said.
Accusers said Kelly obsessively recorded videos of their sexual encounters
Accusers who testified in the trial said Kelly took videos of sexual encounters. Over time, he seemed to become increasingly obsessed with the recordings, according to their testimonies.
A woman who said Kelly sexually assaulted her around a half-dozen times in 1994 said Kelly took videos of just two encounters. By the 2010s, accusers said Kelly kept up to six iPads in a backpack he carried around with him everywhere and set them up on tripods to record sex.
None of the accusers have testified that Kelly explicitly threatened to release the videos as retaliation if they spoke out against him. But it is clear that their existence influenced their actions.
One accuser who testified under the name "Stephanie" said she had a 6-month-long sexual relationship with Kelly in 1999, when she was 17 years old. She said that, after she had already decided to stay away from the singer, she met with him multiple times in a failed effort to persuade him to destroy tapes he made.
A man who said Kelly sexually assaulted him years later, testifying under the name "Louis," also expressed anxiety over the recordings Kelly made. He said he tried to bribe another one of Kelly's accusers, believing she may possess recordings Kelly made of the two men and fearing those recordings could come to light if she testified about him.
While Kelly may have not threatened to release the videos, he did threaten to publish compromising photographs, one accuser testified on Wednesday. In response to a lawsuit the woman filed against Kelly, she received a letter back from him that threatened to publicize details of her sex life and included nude photographs of her.
"Counter actions are in the early stages and due to be released soon," the letter from Kelly read.
The singer took careful steps to undermine accusers' credibility
Former employees have testified about Kelly's bizarre management tactics. If an employee broke a rule of his or didn't meet his standards, he'd often dock pay. Former employees said he'd also sometimes have them write histrionic apology letters that described how they supposedly wronged him. Several of those former employees have testified in the trial, describing how he confined women in rooms and controlled the lives of people around him.
Accusers said Kelly made them write false letters to "protect" him. Louis testified that Kelly insisted he write one saying that someone tried to bribe him into admitting they had a homosexual relationship, rather than telling the truth.
"He gave me the notepad and I wrote the letter," Louis testified. "He told me word for word what to say."
Louis said a close friend of his — another man who he said Kelly sexually assaulted — told him that Kelly instructed him to write a similar letter.
Kelly's defense attorneys so far have had limited success addressing these letters. In cross-examination, his attorneys had Jane read one in front of jurors. But when prosecutors questioned Jane again, she had the opportunity to explain to jurors that those letters were filled with lies Kelly told her to write. Jane also said that if Kelly didn't like her letters, he would reject them, physically abuse her, and then make her write another one.
Still, undercutting accusers' credibility is a tactic that has served Kelly well before.
In his earlier child pornography trial, he muddied the waters. While Chicago prosecutors charged him in 2002, his attorneys succeeded in delaying the trial until 2008. By that point, none of the women allegedly in those tapes wanted to testify in front of jurors.
Jurors later told the Chicago Sun-Times that while they believed R. Kelly was in the videos, they couldn't be certain about the identities and ages of the girls in them.
By the March 2019 interview with Gayle King, just two women remained living with Kelly in Chicago's Trump Tower.
Jane was one of them, and she testified that she lied throughout the interview.
Jane defended Kelly, but she didn't have much of a choice: Kelly was present off camera, looking on as she answered King's questions.
"He did a cough that he usually does, which everyone knows," Jane told jurors, adding: "He was just letting us know he was in the room with us."
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