R. Kelly trial: Details spilled on fake ID obtained for 15-year-old Aaliyah to illicitly marry singer
NEW YORK – Witnesses at R. Kelly's sex-trafficking trial told the jury some gobsmacking details about the R&B star's lifestyle, including the alleged rules the singer's girlfriends followed and the bungling way in which Aaliyah's fake ID to wed while underage was procured.
The third day of the trial ended with a fair amount of head-scratching as prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn began building their case against Kelly, 54.
One of the things the jury heard was that the late singer Aaliyah illegally married Kelly in Chicago in 1994 when she was 15 even though marriage documents falsely said she was 18, according to testimony by a witness.
Prosecutors called Carolyn Harris, a Cook County court clerk for 21 years in the department that issues birth, marriage and death records. She testified that anyone seeking to marry at that time in Cook County had to present valid ID and be at least 18, or, if younger, accompanied by a parent.
The prosecution introduced as evidence the application for marriage, the marriage license and the certificate of marriage involving Kelly and Aaliyah, all of which were closely examined.
She said the bride was listed as Aaliyah D. Haughton, with a birthdate of January 16, 1976. Aaliyah actually was born on the same date in 1979. Kelly's age was listed as 27.
The type of ID presented for Aaliyah, according to the document, was from the Department of Public Aid, Harris said. The date of the application was Aug 30, 1994, and its effective date – meaning the earliest date they could marry – was Aug. 31, 1994.
On cross-examination, Harris said she was not the clerk who handled the Kelly-Aaliyah marriage documents in 1994.
Former R. Kelly tour manager describes getting a fake ID for Aaliyah
Later Friday, the prosecution called Demetrius Smith, who described himself as an assistant and tour manager for Kelly between 1984 and 1996; he testified under subpoena and immunity from prosecution. He will be on the stand again Monday to continue his testimony.
Smith turned out to be a cranky witness, who occasionally became upset or recalcitrant on the stand, saying he didn't remember. Prosecutors then would remind him of what he said in his grand jury testimony, making him read from a transcript. The judge had to admonish him as he repeatedly talked over her and the prosecutors.
“I feel like I’m on trial for Aaliyah," Smith complained at one point. By the end of the day, he was very tense on the stand. “I’m truly uncomfortable with this, your honor... We’re continuously talking about Aaliyah and her parents aren’t here.”
When he was able to recall events, Smith told a conflicting and muddled story. Under prosecution questioning, Smith claimed that Derrel McDavid, Kelly's accountant/manager, arranged the illegal marriage to Aaliyah.
Smith said he thought it was a bad idea because she was underage, but "wanted to stay in the loop," and he offered to help get Aaliyah a false ID by bribing a welfare office worker with $500 in cash. He said Aaliyah went with him to the welfare office, to have her picture taken for the ID. He said she didn't fill out any paperwork, and the ID did not have her age. Smith said he thought she needed another form of ID, so he described going to a courier-type shipping store to get a work ID.
When it came to describing what happened when they went to get the marriage documents, Smith faltered, and had to read his own grand jury testimony out loud. He read that officials at the county clerk's office denied her application because there was no age on her false IDs.
But Smith said McDavid then allegedly stepped in and pulled some strings so they could get a marriage license. He said he didn't really know how McDavid allegedly made that happen. (McDavid is a Kelly co-defendant in a similar Chicago federal sex-crimes case.)
Smith said Aaliyah was the niece of Kelly's then-tour manager, Barry Hankerson, who introduced Kelly to her and her family in Detroit so he could "hear Aaliyah sing." Smith said Hankerson told him she was 14 or 15 at the time. Later, Kelly became Aaliyah's mentor and the producer/writer of her first album, "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number," released in May 1994.
Smith described himself becoming concerned about Kelly's "too friendly" behavior with Aaliyah. Then, on tour with Kelly, the singer told him "Aaliyah is in trouble. We need to get home."
Later, on the plane home to Chicago, Kelly told Smith that Aaliyah “thinks she’s pregnant,” Smith testified. He said McDavid was making arrangements for Aaliyah to marry Kelly to protect him. From what, prosecutors asked: “I guess jail,” Smith said.
Why is Aaliyah part of the R. Kelly trial?
The focus on Aaliyah, who died in a 2001 plane crash, is important because prosecutors have charged that Kelly had "sexual contact" with the singer, known as Jane Doe #1 in the indictment, when she was underage, and that Kelly believed she became pregnant.
Prosecutors argue he secretly arranged the marriage – by allegedly getting a member of his entourage to bribe a government official in Chicago to obtain a fake ID – to protect himself from criminal charges, because a wife can't be forced to testify against a husband, according to a document filed by the prosecution in July.
The outline of the story of Kelly and Aaliyah has long been known, although Kelly has never admitted to wrongdoing. The marriage was soon annulled.
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In her opening statement Wednesday, Kelly's defense lawyer Nicole Blank Becker said there is no evidence to prove Aaliyah was pregnant, noting that she cannot testify herself.
"Aaliyah, God rest her soul, passed away," Becker said. "If Mr. Kelly was involved in a crime in 1994, would we be here today?"
U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly, who is presiding over the trial, ruled at a pre-trial hearing that the issue of the alleged illegal marriage would be allowed in at the trial, despite defense efforts to keep it out.
"It's clearly relevant and it clearly shows a motive for Racketeering Act Number One, so that is admissible," Donnelly ruled.
A 'runner' who worked for R. Kelly described 'Rob's rules' for girlfriends
Earlier on Friday, a man who worked for Kelly as an alleged "runner" testified under subpoena for the prosecution Friday on the third day of the R&B star's federal sex-trafficking trial, describing Kelly's home as a "strange place" and telling the jury that Kelly's "girls" and "girlfriends" had to "get permission for most things" under "Rob's rules."
Between 2007 and 2009, Anthony Navarro worked for Kelly in his Chicago-area home studio, carrying out such duties as answering the phone, picking up food and guests and driving them to the airport or around town.
“Just a strange place,” Navarro said of Kelly’s home, where he testified he often saw women and young girls but wasn't allowed to talk to them.
Navarro's testimony appeared aimed at supporting some of prosecutors' sex-trafficking and racketeering charges against Kelly, which describe the singer as the head of "a criminal enterprise" of managers, bodyguards and other assistants who allegedly helped Kelly to recruit women and underage girls for sex and pornography, and to cross state lines for that purpose.
Navarro, then in his 20s and starting his first job in the music industry, described Kelly's house as "huge" and a "mansion" with cameras in the master bedroom and elsewhere.
Day 1 of R. Kelly sex-trafficking trial:First witness says singer gave her herpes
Prosecutors asked him: Who were the guests at Kelly's house? “They were girlfriends of Rob,” Navarro said. Who was he driving during his driving runs? “Mainly it was girls,” Navarro said. He was under orders not to talk to them, he testified. It was "one of Rob's rules," he said.
If he was driving female guests, they wore street clothes if they were going to outside locations, but "they’d be in pajamas … type of clothing” if they were going to Kelly’s house, Navarro said.
“They (the girls) had to get permission for most things,” Navarro said.
When he went on tour with Kelly, he and other members of Kelly's entourage would invite people to after-parties following concerts, handing out handwritten pieces of paper with Kelly's phone number. Navarro said they would hand them out in the crowd, at malls and restaurants.
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Becker asked Navarro if women would wait in the studio for hours. “Sometimes, yes,” Navarro said. Could they leave? Yes, Navarro said. Could they wait days? Yes, he responded.
Navarro said he didn't know the details of the women's visits.
Becker asked Navarro if he ever heard the girls at the house call Kelly "daddy." Navarro said yes. Becker asked if in his life experience the word "daddy" is used as a “term of endearment.”
“Um, I don’t know what that means,” Navarro said. The judge told Becker to move on.
Becker asked if people requesting to leave the house were forbidden to do so.
“There have been times when people wanted to leave and they couldn’t," Navarro said, citing reasons such as a ride wasn’t available or they couldn’t get in touch with Kelly. “They could walk out the door,” Navarro said.
Did he ever see Kelly armed? Navarro said no. Did he ever see any physical abuse at the studio? Navarro said no. Did he ever see Kelly having sex in the studio? Navarro said no. Did he ever see verbal abuse in the studio? Navarro said yes.
Becker pointed out he told prosecutors in February 2020 he never saw physical or verbal abuse in the studio. Were there times employees were reprimanded? Navarro said yes.
On re-direct, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes asked Navarro to compare his time working for Kelly with his other music-industry experiences.
“It was a weird time for me," Navarro said. "The things you had to do was just a bit uncomfortable...It was almost like the 'Twilight Zone.' You went into the gate and it was like a different world.
“Just a strange place,” Navarro said of Kelly’s home.
What to expect:R. Kelly faces his first trial on sex-trafficking charges
What's happened in the R. Kelly trial so far?
The late teen singer Aaliyah is one of six women named by the prosecution in its sex-trafficking and racketeering charges against Kelly. The other five women include Stephanie, Sonja, Zel, Faith (who are to be referred to in court only by their first names, as ordered by Donnelly) and Jerhonda Johnson Pace, who testified during the first and second day of trial and has previously shared her story publicly.
Pace, who referred to Kelly as "Rob," 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.
She cried on the stand Thursday as she read aloud from her journal about what happened the last time she saw Kelly at his Chicago-area home in 2010. She read that he slapped her a few times and he said, “It’s not going to be an open hand next time.”
Pace testified Wednesday that Kelly sometimes recorded their frequent sex sessions and that he 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 primary care doctor, Kris McGrath, also testified under subpoena Thursday that he was Kelly's doctor for 25 years until 2019 and also a social friend who visited his home for parties and dinners. McGrath said he diagnosed Kelly with genital herpes, he informed Kelly 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.
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.