Dispatches From the R. Kelly Trial
Click on the audio player below to hear Josh Levin read this entry. You can also download the audio file here.
Since I left you a week ago, R. Kelly's Little Man defense faced its stiffest challenge yet. Grant Fredericks, the prosecution's forensic video analyst, testified last Thursday that to do a convincing job of morphing a 27-minute, 100,000-frame video—tweaking the shadows, matching the eye blinks— would take 44 years of steady work. Since Kelly is 41 years old, the architects of such a cut-and-paste job would have needed incredible foresight, or access to a flux capacitor. Fredericks also matched knots in the wood of Kelly's log cabin to those seen in the sex tape's log cabin. And despite the defense's contention that Kelly's distinctive mole could not be seen on the tape, the video analyst pointed out a quite comparable dark spot on Sex Tape Man's back. Unless Kelly's attorneys can conjure a forensic dermatologist, a forensic lumberjack, and a forensic Wayans brother, I'd say the tape is looking pretty unassailable.
But all is not lost for the defense. Mere hours before Kelly's former mistress Lisa Van Allen was set to testify that she had a threesome with the singer and the alleged victim, a surprise witness—Van Allen's ex-beau Damon Pryor—came forward and claimed he could discredit her. In court this morning, state's attorney Shauna Boliker argues that Pryor shouldn't be allowed to testify once the defense starts its case, as everything he would say is unreliable hearsay. In a deposition taken last week, Pryor said that Van Allen once told him that the alleged R. Kelly sex tape was actually created by two gentlemen from Kansas City named Chuck and Keith—heretofore unknown Wayans brothers?—as a scheme to extort Kelly. Judge Vincent Gaughan denies the prosecution's motion to exclude Pryor's potential testimony; it's not hearsay, he says, if Pryor is impeaching Van Allen's testimony, and it's up to the jury to decide if he's credible.
Before the jury has a chance to formulate an opinion, defense attorney Sam Adam Sr. stipulates that his surprise witness is "a con man." As he cross-examines Van Allen, who did finally take the stand on Monday, Adam Sr. asks if she's aware of Pryor's many aliases: Omar Reeves, Michael Russell, Baasil Muhammad, "Tull," and Jamel Carolina (a handle that Pryor perhaps conjured with the help of the "Ron Mexico name generator"). Adam Sr. also inquires if Van Allen knew that Pryor had two Social Security numbers, that he had been convicted of federal bank fraud, and that he had previously pulled the surprise witness stunt in a case that sounds even weirder than this one—that of a black nationalist cult leader known as the Green One and/or Imperial Grand Potentate Noble: Rev. Dr. Malachi Z. York 33/720. (The Green One was eventually convicted of child molestation.)
Why is the defense trashing its own guy? In the hope that some of that trash sticks to Van Allen, who's shaping up to be the state's star witness. Under direct examination, Van Allen—wearing a low-cut-for-criminal-court black baby-doll dress that billows over her four-months-pregnant belly—says she met Kelly in 1997 or 1998, when she was 17. During the shoot for his "Home Alone" video, Kelly's cousin "Blacky" sidled over and said that the singer wanted to meet her; a few moments later, they were having sex in his trailer. Within the year, Van Allen had found gainful employment as the woman who simulates intercourse with Kelly during his stage show.
Around the end of 1998, Van Allen says, Kelly brought her to the log cabin to meet the alleged victim, a girl he claimed was 16. (If they did in fact meet in late 1998, the girl would have been 14.) Kelly placed his co-stars by the hot tub, set up his video camera, and filmed them all having sex. About a year later, they had another threesome, this time on a futon mattress propped on the floor of Kelly's Space Jam-themed basketball court. Van Allen claims that this time she started to cry. "I didn't want to do it," she says, choking out the words through evocative sobs. Kelly didn't take her crying jag well, she says: "He got upset and said that he couldn't watch that, that he couldn't do anything with that. He packed up everything and left." And there we have R. Kelly's first law of filming your sexual conquests: There's no crying in sex tapes. (A few minutes later, we learn R. Kelly's second law of filming your sexual conquests: Never leave your sex tapes unattended. According to Van Allen, Kelly carried a duffel bag of his sex videos "everywhere"—to the gym, to the studio, on music video shoots.)
Van Allen is a boon for the prosecution not just because of her firsthand account of a sexual dalliance between Kelly and the alleged underage victim. She's also the only witness who claims knowledge of the pair's faces and naked torsos—another blow to the Little Man defense. Van Allen says she recognizes the girl on the tape because of "her breasts—back then, I felt they were so much bigger than mine."
For all of this seemingly devastating testimony, I'm guessing the prosecution wishes they never called Lisa Van Allen. Adam Sr., who looks like Ed Asner, dresses like he's colorblind, and talks like a crusty old sea captain, doesn't bother to refute the alleged threesomes—a wise gambit when your client's latest album (Double Up) is an extended paean to the virtues of three-way sex. Just as Kelly's attorneys painted former Kelly protégé Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards as a disillusioned extortionist, the defense harps on Van Allen's motive and credibility. It's a winning strategy: By the end of the afternoon, her carnal knowledge of the alleged victim recedes from memory, replaced by a long list of accusations from Adam Sr. that seem less crazy the more you hear Van Allen talk—that she made herself cry on the stand, stole Kelly's $20,000 diamond-encrusted Rolex, conspired to extort money from the singer, offered to change her testimony for cash, and has a thing for men who've been convicted of federal bank fraud. (Van Allen's fiance Yul Brown, like onetime paramour Damon Pryor, has been convicted of federal fraud charges. And for what it's worth, Brown is wearing the most amazing outfit I've ever seen: an iridescent blue-green five-button suit that shifts color every time he takes a step, sort of like a hybrid between a Hypercolor T-shirt and a Magic Eye puzzle.)
Counter to Pryor's deposition, Van Allen denies that she ever said anything about "Chuck and Keith in Kansas City" making the sex tape at issue in this trial, or that her part of the scheme was to use her relationship with Kelly to extract "a few millions" from the R&B star. The Chuck-and-Keith theory might sound completely insane, except for the fact that Van Allen admits that she went to Kelly just last year with an offer to help him "recover" a different sex tape—one of the threesome videos featuring her, Kelly, and the alleged victim. She says that Kelly offered to pay $250,000 for the assistance of Lisa Van Allen Sex Tape Recovery Services Inc. Whom did she recover the tape from? One Keith Murrell of Kansas City. And how did he get the tape? Lisa Van Allen Sex Tape Thievery Services Inc. Van Allen admits that she's the one who originally swiped the threesome tape from Kelly—don't forget the second law of filming your sexual conquests!—though Adam Sr. strangely doesn't ask how the tape got to Kansas City. Murrell eventually came to Chicago with the tape, she says, and they watched it in a hotel room with a handful of "Robert's people." The singer's accountant then gave Van Allen and Kansas City Keith $20,000 apiece. The tape has never been seen again.
Of course, Adam Sr. is on somewhat thin ice here. He's establishing Van Allen's extortionate ways, but he's doing so by foregrounding another tape of Kelly having sex with the alleged victim, with only the word of an admitted con man to connect her to any sort of tomfoolery with the tape at issue here. Van Allen might be an extortionist, a fake crier (her defiant tone under cross-examination and a regular habit of laughing at Adam Sr.'s questions suggests that she might not be so broken up about her past sexual liaisons), a thief (she admits to stealing that Rolex from Kelly's hotel room), and an opportunist who sees this trial as a get-out-of-jail-free card (she received immunity from the state's attorney and U.S. attorney for any crimes she might have committed). But though Van Allen—the state's last witness—didn't come close to sealing the deal for the prosecution, she has painted a portrait of Kelly as a prolific auteur of homemade pornography. As the defense gets set to make its case, members of the jury must ponder whether they think it's more likely that Kelly, the Wayans Brothers, Ray Harryhausen, or Keith from Kansas City made that video. Or perhaps it's the mysterious Chuck who will reveal the trial's biggest secret. He is, after all, the namesake of the pastor's secret gay lover in Trapped in the Closet. Could Chuck be having an affair with Keith? With R. Kelly? With Yul Brown and his Hypercolor suit? Tune in tomorrow.