R. Kelly co-defendant continues testimony Thursday

All through R. Kelly’s sensational 2008 child pornography trial, the superstar’s entourage included a somewhat mysterious figure: A bespectacled, besuited white guy who shadowed Kelly around the Cook County criminal courthouse with a BlackBerry in his hand.

Nobody quite knew why he was there. “I don’t exist,” he reportedly told journalists who asked.

More than 14 years after Kelly’s stunning acquittal, that mystery man, Derrel McDavid, stepped into the spotlight this week in a different Chicago courthouse — and under far different circumstances.

McDavid — Kelly’s longtime business manager and alleged co-conspirator in a scheme to cover up the singer’s sexual abuse of his underage goddaughter — has spent the past two days testifying in his own defense at Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

During about 10 hours of direct examination, McDavid portrayed himself simultaneously as an insider and an outsider: Close enough to know many of the inner workings of Kelly’s crew, but not so close that he knew anything about any wrongdoing whatsoever — especially not inappropriate relationships with minors.

But that all changed over the past several weeks after being confronted by both video evidence and testimony from alleged victims portraying Kelly as a serial child sex abuser, McDavid said near the end of his direct testimony Thursday.

“For the last three weeks … I’ve learned a lot of things that I had no idea about in 2008,” McDavid said.

Asked if he wanted to believe Kelly’s claims that his accusers were all liars, McDavid said, “I absolutely did.”

When asked why, his voice started to break.

“Because I loved him and I believed in him,” McDavid said. “As I stand here today, I’m embarrassed, sad …”

His answer was cut off by loud objections from Kelly’s attorney as well as prosecutors.

Kelly, 55, faces an indictment charging him with 13 counts of production of child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

McDavid, 61, and another former Kelly employee, Milton “June” Brown, are accused in an alleged scheme to buy back incriminating sex tapes that had been taken from Kelly’s collection and to hide years of alleged sexual abuse of underage girls.

McDavid’s decision to testify in his own defense is a rare and risky move in federal court, and he’s expected to face a lengthy cross-examination by prosecutors Friday.

In his hours so far on the stand, McDavid has at times seemed wearied by the ordeal. At other moments, he came off as gruff, profane and exasperated. He’s vehemently denied any involvement in a cover-up and mostly been a staunch defender of Kelly, testifying the singer had long been the victim of extortionists looking to get paid by making up lies.

McDavid’s defense depends in large part on the claim he believed Kelly was actually innocent during the time period of the alleged cover-ups, and that he only ever acted at the behest of all the lawyers and investigators he hired.

Over and over, McDavid testified that in the early 2000s, as Kelly’s career was skyrocketing, he had no reason to believe any of the claims about a tape showing Kelly with his underage goddaughter, which led to his indictment in Cook County in 2002.

While the goddaughter, “Jane,” testified at this trial that it was in fact her on the tape, she had previously denied it for years. Prosecutors allege that was because Kelly pressured her to lie.

Her consistent denials over the years, including her testimony to a Cook County grand jury, convinced McDavid the claims about her sexual abuse were untrue, he testified.

In February 2002, McDavid said he heard about two phone calls in the same day: one from Kelly’s ex-manager Barry Hankerson claiming he had a tape of Kelly and his goddaughter Jane in a threesome, and one from Sun-Times journalist Jim DeRogatis saying he had a tape of Kelly and Jane.

The timing, just days before Kelly’s scheduled appearance at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, made McDavid suspicious that the tapes were fake or nonexistent — simply an effort by Hankerson to sabotage the Olympics appearance.

“Jane and her family had denied it over and over and over and over again, I had no reason to doubt it,” he said. “Hankerson was a powerful man, he was known to do anything he had to do to get what he wanted. He wanted to destroy Robert.”

Hankerson was also the uncle of R&B ingenue Aaliyah, whom Kelly married when she was just 15 years old. Judge Harry Leinenweber has repeatedly ruled, however, that jurors should not hear about that connection.

The tape obtained by DeRogatis was the centerpiece of Kelly’s 2008 trial in Cook County, which ended with a jury acquitting the singer on all charges. That same footage is now part of the federal indictment against Kelly, along with two other videos purporting to show him sexually abusing Jane.

McDavid testified that he never watched the videotape, but before the trial, Kelly’s criminal defense attorney, Edward Genson, had called him into his office and played a snippet because he “wanted to prove to me that it was fake.”

Echoing a theme from Kelly’s defense in the Cook County trial, McDavid said the excerpt showed only Kelly’s back, including a “distinctive mole” the singer had. When the video was broken down frame by frame, the mole “jumped around” and appeared at one point to disappear altogether, he said. He said he never saw the female on any of the snippets Genson showed him.

McDavid testified Genson said to him triumphantly, “Told you the damn thing was a fake!” McDavid said he believed it, too, because “I could see it with my own eyes.”

Defense attorneys at this trial, 20 years later, have not directly challenged the fact that Kelly and Jane are depicted on the sexually explicit footage. Prosecutors presented extensive testimony from Jane that Kelly had sexual contact with her “innumerable” times beginning when she was just 14, then pressured her to lie about it.

And jurors have seen excerpts from videos that McDavid allegedly conspired to recover before they wound up in the hands of law enforcement, including one where Kelly allegedly instructs Jane to refer to her “14-year-old” genitalia.

Prosecutors also allege that Kelly made another tape, this one showing him, Jane, and his erstwhile girlfriend Lisa Van Allen. But unlike other videos purportedly featuring Kelly and Jane, jurors have not seen this footage. Prosecutors say that’s because Kelly’s team successfully covered it up. The defense has said that’s because it does not exist.

McDavid testified Thursday that he was involved in recovering a tape, but he believed the tape showed the singer in a threesome with Van Allen and his wife — not Jane, as Van Allen testified. He turned the tape over to Genson without viewing its contents, he said.

After Genson confirmed later that the tape showed Kelly, Van Allen and Kelly’s wife, McDavid said he called Kelly.

“I said, ‘The tape you requested has been recovered and given to Mr. Genson,’ ” McDavid testified. In response, Kelly sounded “relieved and happy.”

Genson himself met with Jane before the trial, but shooed McDavid out of the room, so McDavid was not privy to their talk, McDavid testified. Afterward, Genson told McDavid, “I believe her, the tape is a fake, and I’m going to prove it,” McDavid said.

Genson was “like a dog with a bone,” McDavid said, bound and determined to show that the tape was phony. And Genson said it was imperative to seek out any other tapes with Kelly on them to make sure they didn’t taint the jury pool, McDavid said.

McDavid was particularly concerned that there might be a tape out there of Kelly with another man, he said. Years beforehand, Kelly had told McDavid that a man in Florida claimed to have such a tape, and he mentioned it in a way that made McDavid think Kelly was feeling him out to see how he’d react, McDavid testified.

When he told Genson about it, the attorney continued to be adamant, McDavid said.

“Genson said, ‘You better damn make sure you get all those tapes,’ ” McDavid said.

McDavid attended almost all of the Cook County trial, and the proceedings further convinced him that the tape was bogus, he said.

In particular, he said, prosecutors revealed midtrial that they had turned over to defense attorneys a compressed version of the video, not the original. Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan memorably called that “the rotten tomato in the barrel.”

“It definitely convinced me that it was a huge issue with the tape, and I’m sad to say it appeared there to be what would be called prosecutor misconduct,” McDavid said Thursday. “I felt the prosecution was not fair, and I felt that the tape was not legitimate.”

McDavid said Genson told him he could “get a mistrial in two seconds. But the case is won. We’re gonna proceed ahead.”

McDavid’s testimony also offered a counterpoint to prosecution witness Charles Freeman, who testified that Kelly’s team paid him to retrieve potentially incriminating footage.

At each mention of Freeman’s name, McDavid gave an exasperated sigh. Freeman was nothing but an extortionist, he testified.

During Kelly’s 2008 trial he popped up again and demanded $100,000 or he would hold a news conference, McDavid said.

Afternoon Briefing

Afternoon Briefing

Daily

Chicago Tribune editors’ top story picks, delivered to your inbox each afternoon.

Genson was “livid.”

“He said ‘I can’t believe this piece of s–t is trying to do this. He’s trying to derail the trial. … I know you don’t want to do it, but you gotta pay him.’ ”

Freeman sued Kelly’s team after the trial, in 2009, trying to recover money he said he was owed.

After settling the suit, McDavid said, he had a final conversation with Freeman.

“I told him he was a rotten piece of s–t and I never wanted to hear from him again. And if it was up to me he would never get another penny,” McDavid said.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *