Dispatches From the R. Kelly Trial

Day 2: The "Little Man Defense" and the Case Against Sparkle
Notes from different corners of the world.
May 22 2008 10:50 AM

Dispatches From the R. Kelly Trial

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Click on the audio player below to hear Josh Levin read this entry. You can also download the audio file here.

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

R. Kelly leaves the Cook County courthouse. Click image to expand.
R. Kelly leaves the Cook County courthouse

A day after converting the courtroom into the world's least comfortable porno theater, it's now time for the state to prove that we watched R. Kelly having sex in his faux log cabin—not an R. Kelly impersonator in some other guy's faux log cabin. To that end, the prosecution calls Simha "Punky" Jamison, a 24-year-old hair stylist who was best friends with the alleged victim throughout junior high and high school. She's a strong witness, composed if occasionally snarky. When prosecutor Shauna Boliker asks whether she and the victim saw each other every day, Jamison laughs to herself before saying yes, like it's inconceivable that it could've been any other way.

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Jamison says she met Kelly when she was about 13, through the alleged victim's family. After church one Sunday, they all drove to Hoops, the upscale gym where Kelly played basketball. From that day on, Jamison and her friend would visit with Kelly on the court, at his recording studio, and in his log-themed residence more than 100 times. (While we're on the subject, some new log cabin facts from today's testimony: Along with the logs, the lower level of Kelly's former residence includes a short lap pool and a basketball court with a mural depicting the singer shooting hoops with the Tasmanian Devil. From the outside, the red-brick residence—which you can take a gander at on Google Street View—looks less like a place where someone might live than some sort of small-time paper mill. His next-door neighbor was an Enterprise Rent-a-Car.)

Jamison says she heard rumors of an R. Kelly sex tape during her junior year of high school. She watched a bootleg copy at a friend's house in early 2002 and ran home crying after seeing the girl on the screen—"I thought she looked just like my best friend." The giveaways: her face and her mullet haircut. The girls had come to a mutual decision to look like Billy Ray Cyrus, and Jamison recognized the "short at the top, long in the back" style. She also contends that the financial transaction at the beginning of the video isn't an indication that the girl on the video is a prostitute—Kelly frequently handed her friend various amounts of cash for shopping. (The prosecution also implies, but never says directly, that Kelly bought the girl a PT Cruiser.)

On cross-examination, Adam Jr. repeatedly confirms that Jamison relied exclusively on her best friend's face and hair to identify the girl and time-stamp the video. "You can't tell by looking at a person's vagina how old they are, can you?" he asks, then takes a stab at answering his own question: "I don't think you can." Once it's well-established that Jamison didn't pay much attention to the alleged victim's crotch and torso, Adam Jr. asks whether Jamison has seen a "Waymon Brothers" movie called Little Man. "They took the head of Marlon Waymons and put it on a midget, and it looked real, didn't it?" Adam Jr. exclaims, emphasizing the last two words for maximum "gotcha" effect. Jamison looks at him like he's a lunatic or, at least, an astoundingly bad film critic. "Not reeeally," she says, her voice lilting in disbelief as the courtroom breaks up. Congratulations to the Waymon Brothers: This is the first time Little Man has generated laughter.

Amazingly, Adam Jr. is not kidding about any of this. Just as special effects turned Marlon Wayans (I know your last name, my friend!) into a little person, he suggests, so might the sex tape we saw on Tuesday be some sort of digital collage of faces and bodies. He asks Jamison whether she can tell if the video has been tampered with. Judge Gaughan doesn't allow the question: "Just because she's seen the Waymons' movies doesn't make her an expert on morphing."

Kelly's defense team can be forgiven for its ignorance of Little Man—rare is the man who will admit to having seen it. Still, you'd think some junior associate might have mentioned to his bosses that it's (allegedly) a comedy, and derives its (nonexistent) laughs from the fact that the film's Mini-Wayans is ridiculously unchildlike. Perhaps Adam Jr. would have done better with an analogy to a movie where the CGI trickery wasn't played for laughs, something like, "They took off John Travolta's face and put it on Nicolas Cage's body, and it looked real, didn't it?" Or maybe: "They took a sexy cartoon lady and had her kiss Bob Hoskins, and it looked real, didn't it?" One must also consider that, despite being terrible, Little Man cost millions of dollars. The sex tape at issue here appears to have cost more like $1.50, a budget that would make it hard to employ Industrial Light & Magic.

Another problem with the Little Man theory: motive. I suppose it's theoretically possible that someone might blackmail a rich, famous entertainer like R. Kelly by superimposing his face onto a sex-having, urine-producing body. But why would anyone want to pull a Little Man on the alleged victim? She's not rich, and she's not famous; the defense hasn't explained what other possible incentive there could be to tamper with her image.

Having exhausted the Little Man line of inquiry, the defense tries to recruit Jamison to its side on the matter of the missing mole. The hair stylist, however, seems to agree with my Magic Marker theory. When the defense asks her to look at a photo of Kelly's back, she asks whether the mole/birthmark is real or perhaps some kind of stray mark on the print. Her final conclusion: It could be "a cancerous mole, maybe." Kelly tilts back his head and laughs heartily, by far the most emotion he's shown all week.

The only other time Kelly cracks a smile is when he offers a demure wave to the two teenage female worshippers who are in the courtroom again, having thoroughly mastered the visitors' pass system. (Discussion topic: Is it crazier for teenage girls to worship R. Kelly or for R. Kelly to wave at teenage girls in open court?) Based on Jamison's testimony, these girls seem to have a familiar relationship with Kelly. Jamison says that she and her best friend would sit at the record studio and "do nothing"—just sit, talk, and watch R. Kelly from a slight remove. Tabling the more nefarious bits for now, it seems that Kelly, at the very least, enjoys the simple pleasure of having an underage girl entourage.

Not every prosecution witness is as strong as Jamison. Bennie Lee Edwards Sr., the uncle of the alleged victim, testifies that he recognized his niece on the video, and that she looked about 14. This testimony is less compelling once you hear Edwards take 10 long seconds to remember his own age, then botch his own son's date of birth. He also gets in a long dispute with the defense over whether police once found crack rocks under his hat. He contends that the crack was in his truck.

Wednesday's final witness is Bennie Edwards' ex-wife, Delores Gibson. A Chicago police officer and the alleged victim's aunt, Gibson admits that she first saw the sex tape, and identified her niece as the victim, way back in December 2001. The cops didn't get a copy until the Sun-Times turned it over in February 2002, and Adam Jr. presses Gibson on why she didn't follow her police training and turn over the tape immediately. "You're not telling the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that you saw your niece on that tape, are you?" he asks with all the incredulity he can muster. Instead, she told the alleged victim's mother to go to an attorney. Going to a lawyer, Adam Jr. contends, is a sign that for Gibson and certain other family members, this was always about money. This sounds like a preview of the defense's strategy moving forward.

According to the defense, the mastermind of this plot was Gibson's sister-in-law Stephanie Edwards, aka R&B singer Sparkle. Sparkle was once a protégé of Kelly's—he produced one of her albums, and they did a duet together in 1998 called "Be Careful." When Kelly declined to continue working with her, Adam Jr. shouts, Sparkle had an ax to grind. The sex tape was Sparkle's tool to extort her former mentor, to solicit a hefty donation from the R. Kelly Foundation for Girls Who Have Been Abused by R. Kelly. The jury doesn't know, however, that Kelly has a history of paying off his underage accusers, and the defense is hardly going to be the one to tell them about it. Instead, Adam Jr. sticks to attacking Sparkle's credibility even before she takes the stand. Gibson denies the defense's contention that she didn't turn over the tape because she "knew it was a phony." Here, the Sparkle and the Little Man theories converge: Maybe, just maybe, Sparkle knows the Waymon Brothers.

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