R. Kelly married the late pop star Aaliyah when she was just 15 because he believed she was pregnant — part of a bid by the R&B singer to avoid jail, his former tour manager testified in Brooklyn federal court Friday.
Demetrius Smith, who worked with the “Bump n’ Grind” singer in the 90s, said that Kelly tied the knot with his underage girlfriend “to protect himself, to protect Aaliyah” after learning she was knocked up.
“Aaliyah is in trouble, we need to go home,” Smith said Kelly confessed at a concert in Orlando, Fla. around 1994. “Aaliyah, man, she thinks she’s pregnant.”
The couple left the tour immediately, flying home to Chicago where a minister married Kelly and Aaliyah in a hotel, Smith said.
Asked by a prosecutor what Kelly needed protection from, Smith said: “I guess jail.”
Smith said he was initially uncomfortable with how flirty Kelly was around the “Back & Forth” songstress shortly after they met in 1992, when Aaliyah was 13 years old, he said.
“I just thought they were too playful, too friendly…he was seducing her,” said Smith, who met Kelly through Aaliyah’s uncle and Kelly’s manager Barry Hankerson.
On Friday — the third day of the 54-year-old singer’s sex crimes and racketeering trial — lawyers for Kelly also presented a 1994 marriage certificate showing Aaliyah had apparently lied that she was 18 years old when marrying Kelly, who was 27 at the time.
On the stand, Smith told the court that he bribed an Illinois government employee $500 to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah in order for the then-27-year-old Kelly to marry the teen. At the time, in 1994, Kelly believed that Aaliyah was pregnant with his child, so Kelly’s accountant, Smith testified, hatched a plan for the singers to marry in order to avoid statutory rape charges.
The fake ID (which listed Aaliyah’s age as 18) was soon used to acquire a marriage license. Kelly and Aaliyah married in a Chicago hotel in August 1994.“I told him that he couldn’t marry Aaliyah. She was too young,” Smith testified, the New York Times reports, “[Kelly] asked me whose side I was on.”
Aaliyah’s parents had the marriage annulled six months later. Shortly after the Aaliyah incident, Smith — who was granted immunity for his testimony if he cooperated with the prosecutors — said he stopped working for Kelly. The former tour manager will remain on the stand when the racketeering trial continues Monday, with Smith facing questioning by the defense.
An employee of Kelly’s who worked at the singer’s studio in the 2000s was also called to the stand, where they likened the experience to The Twilight Zone. “The things that you had to do was just a bit uncomfortable,” Anthony Navarro told the court, the New York Times reports. “The music and production stuff was really good. All the other stuff was kind of strange.”
The prosecution’s first witness, Jerhonda Pace, said in her testimony Wednesday that, in addition to allegations of sexual abuse, Kelly had given her herpes. On Thursday, prosecutors called Kelly’s longtime physician Kris McGrath — who had treated the singer since 1994 — to the stand under subpoena to verify the claim that the singer was knowingly infecting women with STDs.
McGrath said that he first suspected the Kelly had herpes in June 2000, and even though a lab test for the virus came back negative, the doctor believed it was likely a false negative, CNN reports.
“I did not conclude that he did not have herpes,” McGrath said, adding that he advised Kelly to “inform your sexual partners so they can make a decision whether or not to have sex with you.”