Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
R. Kelly was charged in federal court more than two years ago, but it took less than three days for the testimony called in his defense to draw to a close. And it was a somewhat less-than-stellar showing, per multiple media reports.
In their attempt to defend the R&B hitmaker against allegations of racketeering and breaking an anti-sex trafficking law, Kelly’s attorneys called five witnesses, many of whom seemed to contradict themselves, not be around at the time of the alleged abuse, or have an admitted interest in clearing Kelly’s name.
One witness, former police officer and longtime Kelly friend Larry Hood, initially testified on Monday that he’d never seen Kelly around underage girls, according to the New York Times. But Hood also said that he’d been there when Kelly first met Aaliyah—who Kelly married when she was just 15 years old. Kelly has also been accused of performing a sex act on her when Aaliyah, who died in 2001, was 13 or 14.
Hood said that he knew a woman who had alleged, earlier in the trial, that Kelly had also sexually abused her while she was underage, according to Vulture. Hood testified that she was “one of Aaliyah’s little friends,” Vulture reported. He also called her “one of the young ladies.”
When asked if Hood had ever seen if Kelly “acting inappropriately” with Aaliyah, Hood said he had not. Instead, he said that he had never seen Kelly abuse anybody, according to Buzzfeed News, and had become aware of Kelly’s marriage to Aaliyah “later in life.” Had he known of wrongdoing, Hood said he would have taken action against it.
Hood also provided a gnarled account of his departure from the police force. He said he left the Chicago Police Department “in good standing” in 2007, but confirmed that he had left after he’d pleaded guilty to felony forgery for using counterfeit money. Hood said, however, that he didn’t know the money was fake, Vulture reported.
Under further questioning, Hood agreed that he had not told the truth when he was under oath and pleaded guilty to the felony charge, according to Vulture.
Another associate of Kelly’s, Dhanai Ramnanan, testified on Monday that he’d been in Kelly’s orbit for about 15 years and had gone on tour with him. Ramnanan said he had never seen Kelly hit a woman or stop her from eating or using the bathroom, according to the New York Times.
But Ramnanan also couldn’t remember which tours he’d accompanied the singer on. Prosecutors seemed determined to pick apart Ramnanan’s credibility, according to Rolling Stone: They held up three photos of Kelly on a tour bus, with women, and asked Ramnanan to identify himself in the picture; he was never in them—a suggestion that Ramnanan wasn’t around Kelly as much as he claimed.
On Tuesday, Jeff Meeks testified that he’d worked with Kelly between 2002 and 2019, when Kelly was arrested, CNN reported. He said that he didn’t see Kelly with underage girls, nor had he seen women locked in rooms.
Then a prosecutor asked about a time that Meeks saw a girl trying to leave Kelly’s studio. At the time, Meeks asked someone, “What do we do?” Meeks, who confirmed the incident, said that he learned the girl could leave, he was “relieved.”
The testimony of two other witnesses, both Kelly associates, suggested that they may simply not have been present during any alleged abuse. Julius Darrington, who said that he had not seen Kelly getting physical with women or locking them up, also said that he hadn’t spent time with Kelly in private, Rolling Stone reported. Kelly’s former accountant John Holder said that he, too, had never seen Kelly abuse his girlfriends, but most of the time, he would not be in the same room as them, per CNN.
In contrast, before resting their case Monday, prosecutors built their case for the R&B hitmaker’s guilt over the course of more than four weeks and 40-plus witnesses, including the testimony of 11 accusers.
Kelly stands accused of running a criminal enterprise that used his fame and power to feed him a steady stream of women and girls to abuse. Kelly has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. He did not testify in his own defense.