Prosecutors rest case as fourth woman tested

Nia was just 15 when she left her Atlanta home in 1996 to fly to Minneapolis at the request of R. Kelly, the R&B superstar twice her age.

She had no identification and didn’t tell her mother where she was going, Nia, now 42, told a federal jury on Tuesday. After a white limousine picked her up to take her to the airport, she asked the driver to stop at a gas station, and she bought a single rose to give to Kelly.

“I wanted him to know how I felt about him,” she said. “And I felt that it would be a gesture that would be sweet.”

Instead, Kelly sexually abused her in a hotel room, and left in a hurry before she could even give him the rose, she testified. After another inappropriate encounter at Kelly’s Chicago recording studio, he stopped returning her phone calls. When she saw him again a few years later at a California video shoot, he didn’t acknowledge even knowing her, she said.

Nia’s harrowing story was one of the last things jurors heard before prosecutors rested their case-in-chief on Tuesday, after calling some 25 witnesses over 10 days of testimony against the disgraced singer and his two co-defendants.

Judge Harry Leinenweber adjourned the trial proceedings until Thursday morning, when defense attorneys can begin calling their witnesses.

In a surprising move, prosecutors closed after calling only four of the five Kelly accusers who they said jurors would hear from during the trial.

It was unclear why prosecutors did not call the fifth alleged victim, “Brittany,” to the stand as they had promised to do. Assistant US Attorney Jason Julien told jurors in opening statements that Brittany was 16 when Kelly first had sexual contact with her.

It does not appear that prosecutors intend to drop any of the charges related to Brittany, so jurors will have to rely on under-oath testimony about her from other witnesses in order to decide their verdict on those counts.

Kelly’s goddaughter, “Jane” tested early in the trial that Kelly engaged her in threesomes with Brittany between five and 10 times. The first time, Jane was about 15 years old, and Brittany was slightly older, Jane tested. The two girls fell out of friendship when Jane learned that Brittany was also seeing Kelly separately, she tested.

“Pauline” tested this week that Kelly also had threesomes with her and Brittany when Pauline was 15 or 16, and said Brittany is about a year older than her. Pauline said that when she was 20, she called Kelly’s business posing as Brittany and threatened to go public about some wrongdoing if he didn’t give her money.

“Well, he called it extortion,” she testified memorably. “I called it ‘don’t play with me.’ ”

Meanwhile, Nia testified in a soft voice Tuesday that she met Kelly in spring 1996 at an Atlanta shopping mall. She approached the singer for an autograph, and when Kelly gave her his signature he also wrote his phone number on the paper.

They began to have phone conversations, and during one, she told him she was 15, she said. He said he wanted her to come see one of his shows, and arranged for her to travel to Minnesota for a concert, she testified.

A limousine picked her up at her mother’s apartment in Atlanta — and on the way to the airport they stopped at a gas station so she could pick up the rose. She went to the concert in Minnesota, and Kelly came to her hotel room the next day, she said.

Kelly hugged her and kissed her on the lips in greeting, she said. She asked if they could take a photo together, but Kelly declined.

Kelly instructed Nia to take off her clothes, walk around, and then sit next to him on the bed, she tested.

She complied, and Kelly kissed her, asked her if she was a virgin, and began to perform a sex act on himself, she testified.

When he was finished, he left the room in a hurry, he tested.

“He cleaned himself off and he left,” she said. “I never got a chance to give him a rose.”

Kelly had mentioned wanting to see her in Chicago, and Nia made arrangements to stay with family there after school let out in the summer of 1996, she tested. One night she went with three cousins ​​to visit him at his studio, she said.

Kelly greeted them, but expressed surprise that she didn’t come alone, she tested. Over the course of the night he summoned her away twice so they could kiss alone in the hallway. During one of those instances he groped her under her pants, she tested.

Nia did not tell her cousins ​​about any of that, she tested: “Their reason for coming was to prevent anything from happening, and I didn’t want them to know.”

Later that summer she tried contacting him several times and he never got back to her, she tested.

They ran into each other again some time later in California, during a video shoot for Kelly’s “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time,” Nia testified. She was an aspiring actor and model at the time, she said. Kelly did not seem to know who she was.

“He never acknowledged me or spoke to me, but sometimes I felt he would look in my direction and might have recognized me,” she said.

In 2002, Nia filed a lawsuit against Kelly with the allegations of underage sexual contact, and Kelly agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the claim, she testified.

On cross-examination, Bonjean was skeptical that Nia could have boarded a flight without identification, as she tested, and pressed her on whether she actually told Kelly her age. Nia remained adamant that she did.

“If you told him you were 15, you must have also discussed the fact your mother wouldn’t condone or consent to you leaving the state of Georgia, getting on a plane by yourself, and going to see a grown man, right?”

Prosecutors objected, and Leinenweber sustained the objection.

Nia’s mother was a nurse and had already left for work by the time the limo came to pick Nia up for her trip to Minnesota, she said.

Bonjean asserted that Nia filed her lawsuit “not long” after Kelly snubbed her at the music video shoot, and after she heard Kelly was in trouble on child pornography charges.

Nia testified she contacted the attorney to see if she could be helpful as a witness against Kelly—a claim of which Bonjean was audibly skeptical.

“You contacted a private attorney … because you might be helpful in the criminal prosecution?” she asked. “You didn’t contact the Cook County state’s attorney and let them know?”

Prosecutors briefly called to the stand Sheryl Ware, who identified herself as the ex-wife of Nia’s cousin. She was among the group of cousins ​​who came along to Kelly’s studio, she said.

Ware noted that she recognized Kelly because he was wearing the same shirt he was wearing in the music video for “Gotham City,” she said, and they were at the studio that night until the early morning.

As they were leaving, Kelly said “let me talk to (Nia) for a minute,” Ware tested.

“I was like ‘you get five minutes.’ So they went out in the hallway,” she said. “They were out there exactly five minutes, ’cause I came out in five minutes.”

Jurors on Monday heard from two other women who tested about their sexual contact with Kelly while they were underage. Pauline said she had sexual contact with the disgraced singer dozens if not hundreds of times when she was underage, and Tracy — who tested using only her first name — told jurors in extensive detail about Kelly’s sexual abuse and assault of her when she was 16.

Both women came under intense cross-examination from Bonjean, who asserted that both women had actually reached 17 — Illinois’ age of consent — when they began their sexual relationships with Kelly.

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Kelly, 55, is charged with 13 counts of production of child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Also on trial are former Kelly associates Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, who, according to the indictment, schemed to buy back incriminating sex tapes that had been taken from Kelly’s collection and hide years of alleged sexual abuse of underage girls.

The trial’s first week focused on “Jane,” who identified herself as the girl being sexually abused by the then-superstar in three separate videos from the 1990s.

One of those videos became the subject of Kelly’s 2008 Cook County trial, during which he was acquitted of child pornography charges because, prosecutors now allege, Kelly and his associates went to great lengths to keep “Jane” quiet and recover other incriminating footage.

Witnesses last week largely focused on those efforts. Three people testified that Kelly’s team paid them to bring him videos of his homemade child pornography while he was awaiting his Cook County trial. Defense attorneys, during lengthy cross-examinations, have challenged their stories as inconsistent and tried to paint them as unreliable extortionists.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

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