After several delays, including a brief one this morning, the prosecution's key witness gave explosive testimony Monday.
The prosecution's key witness in the trial of singer R. Kelly on child pornography charges told jurors about three sexual encounters she had with Kelly and the alleged victim in the case.
In just under one hour of testimony, Lisa Van Allen, 27, also identified Kelly and the alleged victim on the videotape that is the central piece of evidence in the trial.
Van Allen, who was 17 when she first met Kelly, testified to a sexual encounter with the underage girl in 1998, 1999 and in 2000. Two of those encounters were videotaped, she said, though neither tape is the one at the center of the prosecution's case.
Van Allen, now engaged and the mother of a 5-year-old-girl, first met Kelly at the video shoot for "Home Alone" in late 1997 or early 1998, where after a brief introduction the two engaged in sexual intercourse, she testified in court today.
After exchanging phone numbers, Van Allen, of Georgia, started flying to Chicago to visit the recording artist, dividing her time between a hotel room paid for by Kelly and the studio where he recorded his music. By the summer of 1998, the 17-year-old quit her job in Georgia and moved to Chicago to be with Kelly, she testified.
She attended his performances and went on tour with him, in addition to occasional outings to the mall for shopping, she said.
Then in late 1998, Van Allen testified she met the alleged victim. Their first encounter was sexual, she said, and took place with Kelly in the log-cabin themed room of his former home in Chicago.
The singer videotaped the encounter, she said.
"He had a stand, and he set it up ... and directed it toward where we were," she said under direct examination from the prosecution. "[He] told us where to sit and basically what to do."
After the first encounter, she occasionally saw the alleged victim at Kelly's music studio, Van Allen said. Then a year later, she said, they all met up again at the singer's house, where the three engaged in intercourse on a black futon set up on the singer's basketball court.
Van Allen said Kelly again set up a video camera and pointed it at the mattress. But this time, Van Allen started crying, she testified.
"I didn't want to do it," she explained in court. "[Kelly] stopped everything and put up the camera and we left."
The last encounter between the three took place in 2000 in Kelly's trailer at the video shoot for "A Woman's Threat" in Chicago, she testified.
She said Kelly recorded the encounter, as well, though it was interrupted when someone came knocking on the trailer door.
"[The alleged victim] had to run into the bathroom naked" because Kelly did not want her to be seen, Van Allen said.
The prosecution made clear that neither this tape nor the other recordings she testified about were the tape shown to jurors during the trial.
Van Allen said she had never seen that tape before prosecutors showed it to her last week. But her identification of the participants in the video was unequivocal: the alleged victim and Kelly.
She said the tape was probably made in 1998, the same year she was first filmed with the alleged victim and Kelly, because "they both looked exactly the same way."
Van Allen added that she recognized the room where the encounter between the alleged victim and Kelly took place as the log cabin-themed room. Van Allen testified that Kelly kept all of his tapes with him at all times and put them in a black duffel bag.
"If he was in the studio, it was in the studio with him. If he went to Hoops [basketball court], it went to Hoops with him," she said. "The bag would follow him."
Van Allen testified that in 2001, she left Kelly and returned to Georgia. She maintained contact with the singer, though, and he visited her in Atlanta.
During one visit, she testified, she stole his Rolex watch.
Defense attorneys had previously mentioned the theft, and they are likely to hammer away at her during cross-examination. The defense is expected to attack her credibility as a witness, citing her theft and other charges leveled against her.
As for her reasoning for coming forward: "It was the right thing to do." She was also given state and federal immunity for testifying in the case, Van Allen said.
The defense is likely to question her motivation, given that she waited several years after the indictment was announced before coming forward.
Van Allen admitted on the witness stand that she had been in jail for a month after a fight with another woman when she was 19. She also acknowledged she spent two days in jail for a domestic battery charge in 2006 after finding her boyfriend with another woman.
Kelly's attorneys are expected to accuse her of offering to switch her testimony for a price. The defense team has described it as an extortion attempt, and unsuccessfully petitioned Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan to compel the prosecution to file criminal charges against her.
June 2, 2008 12:25 PM: Star witness takes the stand
After some procedural delays, Lisa Van Allen, the key witness for the prosecution, began testifying at about 11 a.m. Monday. Azam Ahmed
June 2, 2008 12:05 PM: Judge warns star prosecution witness
Before the jury was called in Monday morning, the key witness for the prosecution--who is expected to testify about having a sexual encounter with both the R&B superstar and the alleged victim--stood briefly before the judge.
Judge Vincent Gaughan admonished the witness, Lisa Van Allen, that some of her testimony could be self-incriminating, but did not specify what he was referring to. Van Allen will be the prosecution's first witness this morning, and direct examination is expected to take about 30 minutes, prosecutors said in court.
Kelly's attorneys are expected to accuse her of offering to switch her testimony for a jaw-dropping price. The defense team has described it as an extortion attempt, and unsuccessfully petitioned Gaughan to compel the prosecution to file criminal charges against her.
Also Monday morning, the judge denied a request from Assistant Cook County State's Atty. Shauna Boliker to exclude the testimony of a defense witness from the trial. The witness, Damon Pryor, is a former boyfriend of Van Allen and the father of her 5-year-old child. He was flown in last week as a last-minute witness, and his testimony could undermine some of Van Allen's testimony today.
In open court this morning, defense attorney Sam Adam Sr. said he expects Pryor to testify that Van Allen told him R. Kelly was not the man in the sex video at the heart of this case. Pryor is also expected to say that Van Allen once stole R. Kelly's watch.Boliker argued that Pryor's testimony would amount to hearsay. But the judge disagreed.
"Whether Mr. Pryor is credible, that is up for the jury to decide," Gaughan said.
June 2, 2008 10:26 AM: Top prosecution witness arrives
The most anticipated witness in the R. Kelly trial has arrived at the courthouse.
Lisa Van Allen, 27, and her fiance, Yul Brown, entered the building around 9 a.m. Van Allen, who is four months pregnant, sported a black dress and a small baby bump.
It's unclear when she'll take the stand, but prosecutors typically have saved their splashy witnesses for the afternoon.
Van Allen is expected to tell the jury that she had a sexual encounter with the R&B superstar and his goddaughter, the same girl who authorities say is depicted in the sex tape at the heart of the child pornography case. She's also expected to say the alleged victim was a minor at the time of their tryst and that the encounter was taped.
Stacy St. Clair
June 2, 2008 5:04 AM: Star witness 'looking forward' to it
Stop us if you've heard this one before, but the woman who claims she had a sexual encounter with R. Kelly and his goddaughter is set to testify today.
Yes, yes, we know it has been promised before. But this time, the Georgia woman's fiance says, today's the day.
"She's looking forward to it," Yul Brown says.
Lisa Van Allen, 27, was expected to take the stand last Wednesday, but her testimony was delayed when her ex-boyfriend came forward with information the defense said could undermine her testimony.
The prosecution could have called her as a witness the following day, but her ex-boyfriend delayed his deposition by refusing to give the state's attorneys office his Social Security number. (The judge subsequently ordered him to do so) Prosecutors also had high-priced experts scheduled to testify Thursday and didn't want to put them off, either.
Brown confirmed Van Allen, who is four months pregnant, will testify about having sex with the R&B superstar and his goddaughter, the same girl who authorities say is depicted in the sex tape at the heart of the child pornography case. She'll also say the alleged victim was a minor at the time of the sex and that the encounter was taped.
"Yes, a tape existed," Brown said. "I won't say if I have any knowledge of what happened to the tape."
His fiance, however, will have to be a tad more forthcoming when asked about the tape today. Sources familiar with the case say Van Allen -- who met the singer when she was a 17-year-old extra in his "Home Alone" video -- sold the recording to one of Kelly's representatives for a significant amount of money.
Kelly's attorneys also are expected to accuse her of offering to switch her testimony for a jaw-dropping price when she takes the witness stand. The defense team has described it as an extortion attempt and have petitioned Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan to compel the prosecution to file criminal charges against her. Gaughan denied the request during a secret proceeding held in his chambers.
Brown would not comment on the specifics, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the case.
"The truth will be out there," he said. "Lisa is looking forward to setting the record straight."
The defense, prosecutors and Van Allen cannot comment because of Gaughan's gag order.
Whatever happens today, it's not going to be pretty. We'll be back with an update as soon as Van Allen takes the stand.
Stacy St. Clair
May 30, 2008 2:30 PM: Attorney's musical overture hits sour note
A lawyer was booted from the Cook County Criminal Courts Building today after attempting to foist his own music CD on R. Kelly in the courtroom where his trial is taking place.
Attorney Mike Roman approached Kelly on Friday morning while the singer was sitting alone at the defense table. With his lawyers and the prosecutors meeting privately in the judge's chambers, the R&B superstar was left to fend off the man's overture.
Roman--a local criminal-defense lawyer who fronts the Latin rock band, Mike Roman and the Tellstars, in his spare time--offered Kelly a free copy of his CD "Cha Cha Time." Kelly, 41, is considered one of the music industry's most prolific songwriters and producers.
"No, thank you," Kelly said with a polite smile. "I'm not allowed to take anything."
Roman persisted, but Kelly continued to decline the CD.
"I'm not allowed to talk to anyone," said the singer, reminding Roman of the gag order imposed on him by trial Judge Vincent Gaughan.
Roman offered to just leave the disc, but Kelly asked him not to.
"Please," Kelly said quietly. "You have to leave me alone."
Other attorneys in the courtroom noticed the conversation and called deputies to assist Kelly. Roman was briefly detained, much to his displeasure.
"I'm a lawyer and I'm musician," Roman told the authorities. "What's wrong with that?"
Deputies held Roman in a courthouse anteroom while they discussed the matter with Gaughan. The judge later ordered officers to escort him from the building.
Roman cooperated with his removal--but not before trying to sell a "Cha Cha Time" CD to one of Kelly's defense attorneys for $15.
Roman would not comment after leaving the building. His band's Web site says the group will be playing Taste of Chicago this summer.
Stacy St. Clair
May 30, 2008 1:11 PM: Sun-Times music critic ordered to testify
Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis must testify at R. Kelly's child pornography trial, a judge ruled today.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said DeRogatis--who provided the police with the sex tape at the heart of the case--is not protected by any reporter's privilege or the 1st Amendment because he is the first person known to have possessed the video.
The defense has the right to question him about what he may have done with the VHS cassette between the time he received it and the moment he handed it over to the authorities, according to the ruling.
The Sun-Times will appeal the decision, attorney Damon Dunn said.
Gaughan will not allow the defense to ask him about his sources or subpoena any reporting notes he took before he gave the tape to a law-enforcement official, according to the ruling. However, he must turn over notes from an interview he conducted after police began investigating the case.
DeRogatis most likely will assert his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and not answer certain questions while on the stand, his lawyer said.
The defense intends to question DeRogatis about whether he manipulated, morphed or copied the video after receiving it. The singer's attorneys contend the music critic--who spent years chronicling the R&B superstar's relationships with young women--has a personal vendetta against Kelly.
"The bias was so strong it compelled the reporter to break the law," said Kelly's attorney, Marc Martin.
Last week, Kelly's team suggested that DeRogatis copied the sex tape and showed it to Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards, a relative of the video's alleged female participant. If that happened, it's possible he might have broken the state's laws against reproduction, possession and dissemination of child pornography, the defense says.
Both the judge and the defense, however, acknowledge the statute of limitations ran out on any copying or screening of the tape in 2002. If he still has a copy--or had it within the past three years--it's possible he may have broken the law, Gaughan said.
The judge has repeatedly warned reporters covering the case that the 1st Amendment does not give them the right to possess or show censored versions of the sex tape. "Possession of child pornography is a crime," he said Friday.
Sun-Times attorney Dunn would not comment on whether DeRogatis made a copy. He also denied that the music critic's feelings about Kelly affected how he handled the tape or wrote his stories.
"Whether or not Mr. DeRogatis harbored a bias against pedophilia is not important," Dunn said.