Stephanie was 17 and out to dinner with R. Kelly and two rappers, she said, when Mr. Kelly said something that surprised her: He liked “young girls,” and he did not understand why people made such a big deal of it.
“Even look at Jerry Lee Lewis,” the woman said she heard Mr. Kelly remark. “He’s a genius and I’m a genius. We should be allowed to do what we want — look at what we give to the world.”
Mr. Lewis, also a famous musician, once married his 13-year-old cousin.
The woman, who testified only as Stephanie, is the third accuser to take the stand at Mr. Kelly’s trial in Brooklyn. All three women were underage when, they testified, Mr. Kelly began having sex with them. But while the two previous accusers to testify had spoken publicly about their encounters with Mr. Kelly before, Stephanie had not, she said on Thursday.
Mr. Kelly, 54, is charged with racketeering and with eight violations of the Mann Act, a federal anti-sex trafficking law. He has pleaded not guilty, and has consistently denied the accusations against him.
Stephanie, now 39, is one of six women whose encounters with Mr. Kelly make up the heart of the prosecution’s case, as they seek to convince jurors that the singer used his fame — and a network of employees and associates — to build a system of physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
During her testimony on Thursday afternoon, Stephanie said that the singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, preyed upon her beginning in the summer of 1999, when she was 17 and approached him to ask if her friend could audition for him.
“He said, yeah, that he thought he could arrange that, but also he’d like to get to know me,” she said. “And also that he likes to cuddle and would I be OK with that?”
Hoping to help her friend, she said, she agreed — and before long Mr. Kelly was having sex with her.
“That was definitely the hardest time of my life,” she told the jury. “I had very low self-esteem. I’d already been through sexual trauma within my family, by my first boss, by men on the street. I was very vulnerable.”
With Mr. Kelly, she said, she reached a new low.
“I’ve never been treated like that before or since,” she said. “He humiliated me, he degraded me, he scared me. I’ll never forget the way he treated me.”
Stephanie was 17 for most of the time that she spent with Mr. Kelly, she said, noting that she was clear with him about her age, but that he did not care.
Stephanie recalled that Mr. Kelly had two sides: “He was very nice and charming, jovial,” she said, “Or he was very controlling, intimidating. He would raise his voice at me and could put the fear of God in me very quickly.”
She said that he was particularly controlling during sex.
“It was humiliating,” said Stephanie, who was accompanied to court on Thursday by Gloria Allred. “He would be very specific about how he would want me to be. He would put me in positions he wanted me to be in,” she said, noting that sometimes he would direct her to get completely naked, assign her a position and then leave the room — sometimes for hours.
If he returned and she was not still in the same position, he would become angry, she said.
Mr. Kelly’s defense homed in on Stephanie’s decision to continue seeing the singer, and Nicole Blank Becker, one of Mr. Kelly’s four lawyers, noted that in Illinois the age of consent is 17. (That Illinois law is only applicable if the age difference between partners is no more than five years; at the time, Mr. Kelly was 32.)
Accusations of criminal activity that dates to the 1990s would typically be too old to prosecute. But the racketeering charge, which claims that Mr. Kelly was the head of a criminal scheme that preyed on women and underage girls for sex, allows the government to introduce evidence from any time that was part of the conspiracy that prosecutors are seeking to prove.
Understand the R. Kelly Trial
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What are the charges?
Mr. Kelly is facing one charge of racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and forced labor, and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting anyone across state lines for prostitution.
Who is testifying?
The trial centers around six women, several of whom are expected to testify. Prosecutors say the singer physically abused and psychologically manipulated many of them and controlled several aspects of their lives, including when they could eat and use the bathroom. At least three were underage.
His marriage to Aaliyah.
Part of the case involves R. Kelly’s marriage to singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when they wed in 1994. Mr. Kelly’s former tour manager testified that R. Kelly bribed a government employee in 1994 so that he could obtain a fake ID for her.
The 2008 trial.
The performer was acquitted in a high-profile criminal case brought against him on child pornography charges in 2008. The trial was centered on a videotape that prosecutors said showed the R. Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. She refused to testify. Here’s a full timeline of the allegations.
Accusations against Mr. Kelly have piled up in testimony since his trial began last Wednesday.
Over three days this week, a woman who testified under a pseudonym told the jury that she had spent almost five years with the singer, with their sexual encounters beginning when she was 17.
She accused Mr. Kelly of pressuring her to get an abortion and said that he had once beaten her with a Nike sneaker. On multiple occasions, she said, he directed her to have sex with a man she didn’t know.
The woman, now 23, was once among Mr. Kelly’s most vocal defenders. She stayed with Mr. Kelly through his arrest, and remained with the singer even after his incarceration. But she testified this week that Mr. Kelly had scripted her answers to questions during a high-profile television interview in 2019, some of which she said were lies.
And last week, Jerhonda Pace became the first of his accusers to ever testify against him in court, telling the jury that her sexual encounters with the singer started when she was 17.
Stephanie’s testimony on Thursday at times echoed the earlier accusers’ accounts. She said that Mr. Kelly sometimes recorded their sex acts, recalling him using both a VHS tape recorder and another device while they were having sex.
The breaking point came a little later, she said, after Mr. Kelly flew her and her friend, Catherine, the aspiring singer, to Orlando, and left them there for several days. “I started to think he’d forgotten I was there,” she said, noting that she never left the house.
But shortly before she was scheduled to leave, Mr. Kelly returned for her — and again directed her to have oral sex while he recorded.
“I felt used and humiliated and degraded,” she said. “And I just didn’t want to see him anymore.”
A short time later, she said, she broke off contact for good.