Ex-employee testifies he now doubts denials of abuse by R. Kelly

CHICAGO (AP) — An ex-business executive of R. Kelly and his co-defendant at the federal trial of the singer in Chicago expressed doubts in the witness box on Thursday about Kelly’s insistence in the 2000s that he never sexually assaulted minors — and testified one day later the former employee told jurors he had no reason to doubt his boss was telling the truth.

Derrell McDavid’s testimony, which could be a major blow to Kelly’s hopes of acquittal, came in the stands at the end of McDavid’s second day. He and the Grammy winner are accused of successfully solving Kelly’s child pornography trial in 2008 by threatening witnesses and hiding video evidence. Both are also accused of child pornography.

When asked by his own attorney, Beau Brindley, whether he was now in “a different position” in reviewing charges against Kelly after reviewing the government testimony of four Kelly prosecutors, McDavid solemnly replied, “Yes, I am. I.”

“The last (few) weeks…I’ve learned a lot…that I had no idea about in 2008,” he said. When he added, “As I stand here today, I am ashamed…sad,” protested Kelly’s lead attorney, Jennifer Bonjean. Judge Harry Leinenweber supported her objection.

McDavid, who previously said he once saw Kelly as a son, was also asked on Thursday whether he would have believed Kelly in the 2000s and until the end of Kelly’s trial in 2008.

“I absolutely did,” he replied, “because I loved him and believed in him.”

R. Kelly, center, arrives with manager Derrel McDavid, left, at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building in Chicago for his 2008 child pornography trial.

Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

It is in McDavid’s interest to say that he believed Kelly through much of the 2000s because it undermines the government’s case that McDavid knew Kelly was guilty on the way to the 2008 trial and that, if the evidence was not suppressed, would be convicted.

Now that the jury had left the courtroom earlier, Bonjean said she was concerned that McDavid — as he eventually did — would cast doubt on Kelly’s credibility. She said it would unfairly disadvantage her client in the eyes of the jurors and, in some ways, seal his fate.

Kelly’s defense team has repeatedly requested that Kelly’s trial be separated from McDavid’s and that Kelly be tried alone, as their interests in a joint trial inevitably conflict. Leinenweber has repeatedly rejected that request.

Among the allegations facing only Kelly in the current trial are five counts of seducing underage girls for sex — one count for five Kelly accusers. McDavid’s testimony by the end of Thursday could potentially lend credibility to those allegations.

Prosecutors will begin 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 other prohibited topics, including evidence entered by prosecutors during Kelly’s 2008 trial.

Earlier Thursday, McDavid also testified that an attempt to recover alleged Kelly sex videos prior to the 2008 trial was driven not by himself or Kelly, but by Kelly’s now-deceased criminal defense attorney, Ed Genson.

With that testimony, McDavid sought to distance himself from decisions to aggressively prosecute videos ahead of the 2008 trial, including by offering six-figure payouts for lost or stolen videos.

The ongoing trial in Kelly’s hometown is, in a sense, a repeat of that 2008 trial. A single video, in which prosecutors said Kelly sexually assaulted a girl around 14, was at the heart of that trial. The same video is present during the current process.

The girl in the video, then an adult, did not testify at that trial in 2008, which the jury said was one of the reasons why they were unable to convict Kelly. She testified at the current trial under the pseudonym “Jane.”

The otherwise dry, sober McDavid sounded emotional for the first time in two days in the stands when asked Thursday how he felt when jurors acquitted Kelly of all charges at the 2008 trial.

“I was happy,” he said, his voice seemed to break.

During a lunch break during McDavid’s testimony, McDavid stood next to Kelly at his defense table—the two chatted gently.

On Thursday, McDavid told jurors that he and Kelly began to drift apart in the years following the 2008 trial, with the friction between them highlighted by financial disputes. He stopped working for Kelly in 2014, he testified.

On Wednesday, McDavid told the judges that he had seen Jane hanging out in Kelly’s studio in the late 1990s as a minor. He said Kelly angrily denied rumors that he was sexually abusing Jane, who Kelly described as his goddaughter.

“I believed him,” McDavid testified.

Previously, Jane, now 37, testified that Kelly sexually assaulted her hundreds of times since she was 14. She also said that she was the girl in the video in the middle of the 2008 trial and that she was acting as evidence during the current trial. She said Kelly produced it.

McDavid is the only one of the three defendants to testify on his behalf. Both Kelly and Milton Brown, the third co-defendant, told the judge last week that they would not testify.

This trial follows a separate federal trial in New York, where Kelly, 55, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in June.