R. Kelly's Chicago trial: Ex-employee testifies he now doubts singer's abuse denials
CHICAGO - An ex-business manager for R. Kelly and his co-defendant at the singer’s federal trial in Chicago expressed doubts on the witness stand Thursday about Kelly’s insistence in the 2000s that he never sexually abused minors — testifying a day after the former employee told jurors he had had no reason to doubt his boss was telling the truth.
Derrell McDavid’s testimony, which could be a major blow to Kelly’s hope of acquittal, came at the end McDavid’s second day on the stand. He and the Grammy winner are charged with successfully fixing Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial by threatening witnesses and concealing video evidence. Both also face child pornography charges.
Asked by his own lawyer, Beau Brindley, if he was in "a different position" now as far as assessing allegations against Kelly after sitting through government testimony by four Kelly accusers, McDavid responded solemnly: "Yes, I am."
"The last (few) weeks … I’ve learned a lot … that I had no idea about in 2008," he said. When he added that, "as I stand here today, I’m embarrassed… sad," Kelly’s lead lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, objected. Judge Harry Leinenweber sustained her objection.
McDavid, who said earlier he once saw Kelly as a son, was also asked Thursday if he had wanted to believe Kelly in the 2000s and through to the end of Kelly’s 2008 trial.
"I absolutely did," he answered, "because I loved him and I believed in him."
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It is in McDavid’s interest to say he believed Kelly in much of the 2000s because it undermines the government’s case that McDavid knew Kelly was guilty heading into the 2008 trial and would, if evidence wasn’t suppressed, be convicted.
With jurors out of the courtroom earlier, Bonjean said she was worried McDavid would — as he ended up doing — cast doubt about Kelly’s believability. She said it would unfairly prejudice her client in jurors’ eyes and, on some counts, seal his fate.
Kelly’s defense team has several times asked that Kelly’s trial be severed from McDavid’s and that Kelly be tried alone, saying their interests at a joint trial would inevitably conflict. Leinenweber has repeatedly rejected that request.
Among the charges only Kelly faces at the current trial are five counts of enticing minor girls for sex — one count for five Kelly accusers. McDavid’s testimony toward the end of the day Thursday could potentially lend credence to those accusations.
Prosecutors are set to start what could be a blistering cross-examination of McDavid on Friday. McDavid’s lengthy testimony seemed to open doors for prosecutors to ask him about otherwise barred topics, including evidence entered by state prosecutors at Kelly’s 2008 trial.
Earlier Thursday, McDavid also testified that a push to recover purported Kelly sex videos prior to the 2008 trial was driven, not by himself or Kelly, but by Kelly’s now deceased-criminal lawyer, Ed Genson.
With that testimony, McDavid sought to distance himself from decisions to aggressively pursue videos prior to the 2008 trial, including by offering six-figure payoffs for lost or stolen videos.
The ongoing trial in Kelly’s hometown is, in ways , a do-over of that 2008 trial. A single video, which state prosecutors said showed Kelly sexually abusing a girl of around 14, was at the heart of that trial. The same video is in evidence at the current trial.
The girl in the video, then an adult, did not testify at that 2008 trial, which jurors said at the time was one reason they couldn’t convict Kelly. She did testify at the current trial under the pseudonym, "Jane."
The otherwise dry, matter-of-fact McDavid sounded emotional for the first time in two days on the stand when asked Thursday how he felt when jurors at the 2008 trial acquitted Kelly on all charges.
"I was happy," he said, his voice appearing to break.
During one lunch break during McDavid’s testimony, McDavid stood next to Kelly sitting at his defense table — the two chatting amiably.
On Thursday, McDavid told jurors he and Kelly began to grow apart in the years after the 2008 trial, friction between them highlighted by financial disputes. He quit working for Kelly in 2014, he testified.
On Wednesday, McDavid told jurors he had seen Jane when she was a minor hanging around Kelly’s studio in the late 1990s. He said Kelly angrily denied rumors he was sexually abusing Jane, who Kelly described as his god daughter.
"I believed him," McDavid testified.
Testifying earlier, Jane, now 37, said Kelly sexually abused her hundreds of time starting when she was 14. She also said she was the girl in the video at the center of the 2008 trial and entered as evidence at the current trial. She said Kelly produced it.
McDavid is the only one of the three defendants testifying in his own behalf. Both Kelly and Milton Brown, the third co-defendant, told the trial judge last week they would not testify.
This trial follows a separate federal trial in New York, where the 55-year-old Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in June.