Despite judge’s order, Aaliyah looms over R. Kelly’s federal child pornography trial


CHICAGO – She died more than 20 years ago, but Aaliyah Haughton still looms large over R. Kelly’s ongoing child pornography and obstruction of justice trial in Chicago’s federal courthouse.

After 15 days of proceedings, the R&B prodigy’s name has been mentioned just a single time on the record and in front of jurors, though they were immediately told to disregard it. Before the trial began, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that Haughton — whose stage name was just “Aaliyah” — could not be mentioned at all during proceedings.

Thursday morning, though, federal prosecutors asked Leinenweber to reconsider that ruling in light of extensive testimony from one of Kelly’s co-defendants in the case, his former business manager Derrel McDavid.

McDavid testified repeatedly Wednesday that he believed the early allegations of sexual impropriety made against Kelly were part of a scheme “to destroy” the singer’s career orchestrated by Kelly’s former manager, Barry Hankerson.

“This relates to the fact that Hankerson’s niece, Aaliyah, was also involved in an inappropriate relationship with Kelly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Pozolo said Thursday morning before jurors were brought into the courtroom. “That door has been opened wide.”

Unbeknownst to the jury, Hankerson was Aaliyah’s uncle. He introduced his niece to Kelly, and Kelly eventually produced Aaliyah’s acclaimed debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.”

During Kelly’s federal trial in New York last year — in which he was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 30 years in prison — the singer’s former tour manager, Demetrius Smith, testified that Kelly told him that he was worried Aaliyah might be pregnant with his child. Smith said McDavid pushed Kelly to marry the singer as a way to protect himself from legal liability.

Aaliyah and Kelly were illegally married in 1994 after Smith acquired a fake ID for the teen as a way to get a bogus marriage license. Kelly was 27 at the time, Aaliyah was 15. The marriage was ultimately annulled, and Aaliyah later left Kelly’s record label before she died in a plane crash in 2001.

Despite Pozolo’s request, Leinenweber ruled that any mention of Aaliyah would remain barred from the ongoing trial.

McDavid’s Thursday testimony largely centered around the response by Kelly’s legal team and handlers to the 2002 child pornography charges brought against the singer in Cook County Circuit Court.

Throughout the nearly two days of direct testimony, McDavid’s attorney Beau Brindley repeatedly asked him if he believed the early allegations of sexual impropriety brought against Kelly. McDavid said that, at the time, he did not believe the claims against the singer. McDavid stressed that “Jane” and her parents repeatedly denied that it was her seen on the tape that was at the center of Kelly’s 2008 trial.

At the conclusion of his direct testimony, McDavid’s attorney Beau Brindley asked him about the testimony he’s heard in this case, where several women have testified that they had sexual relationships with Kelly while they were minors.

“How can you justify your belief in 2008 that Mr. Kelly should be exonerated?” Brindley asked.

“I’ve learned a lot of things that I had no idea about in 2008,” McDavid replied. “Before this trial, all I knew is what I knew then, that ‘Jane’ was innocent and so was Mr. Kelly. As I stand here today, I’m embarrassed.”

A federal grand jury in Chicago indicted Kelly on 13 counts in July 2019, accusing him of producing and receiving child pornography, while also enticing minors to engage in illegal sexual activity.

McDavid and Brown are charged with one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography. McDavid also faces two counts of receiving child pornography and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice related to Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County.

Prosecutors allege Kelly and those in his inner circle paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in an effort to track down video tapes that Kelly made that allegedly show him engaging in sexual activity with underage victims.

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