A key accuser at the R. Kelly sex-trafficking trial returned to the witness stand on Thursday, weeping when a prosecutor asked her to read out loud from a journal entry describing how he allegedly beat and choked her the last time they were together in 2010.
Jerhonda Pace, who had remained stoic during nearly two days on the witness stand, read how R. Kelly cursed at her and slapped her three times, telling her, “It's not going to be an open fist next time.” She wrote that he choked her and sexually assaulted her before she “became fed up with him” and left.
The witness, who is pregnant and only a few days from her due date, asked for a break so she could compose herself.
Pace resumed her testimony in Brooklyn federal court a day after telling jurors she was a 16-year-old virgin and a member of R. Kelly’s fan club when he invited her to his mansion in 2010. While there, she said, she was told to follow “Rob’s rules” — edicts restricting how she could dress, who she could speak with and when she could use the bathroom.
She said R. Kelly — born Robert Sylvester Kelly — sometimes demanded she wear pigtails and “dress like a Girl Scout” during sexual encounters that R. Kelly often videotaped.
On cross examination, defense attorney Deveraux Cannick sought to show Pace hid her true motivations regarding R. Kelly and deceived him by lying about her age.
“You were in fact stalking him, right?” Cannick asked.
“That is not right,” she responded.
Pace had testified earlier the she told R. Kelly she was 19 when they met but had informed him she was only 16 by the time he sexually abused her.
Cannick confronted her with a lawsuit settlement she signed indicating she agreed she never revealed to R. Kelly that she was a minor. She said it was in exchange for hush money.
The questioning fit a theme that defense lawyers have repeatedly pushed early in the trial: R. Kelly was victimized by groupies who hounded him at shows and afterward, only to turn against him years later when public sentiment shifted against him, they allege.
To bolster their claims against R. Kelly, prosecutors showed jurors screenshots from Pace’s phone showing several communications with R. Kelly in January 2010, including a text from him reading, “Please call.” There was also a photo of her with “Rob” tattooed to her chest. She said she’s since “covered it up with a black heart.”
Pace, the trial's first witness, was among multiple female accusers — mostly referred to in court as “Jane Does” — expected to testify at a trial scheduled to last several weeks. Other likely witnesses include cooperating former associates who have never spoken publicly before about their experiences with R. Kelly.
The Associated Press doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent unless they have shared their identities publicly. Pace has appeared in a documentary and participated in media interviews.
R. Kelly, 54, has denied accusations that he preyed on Pace and other victims during a 30-year career highlighted by his smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” a 1996 song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations, weddings, advertisements and elsewhere.
The testimony comes more than a decade after R. Kelly was acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case in Chicago. The reprieve allowed his music career to continue until the #MeToo era caught up with him, emboldening alleged victims to come forward.
The women’s stories got wide exposure with the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” The series explored how an entourage of supporters protected R. Kelly and silenced his victims for decades, foreshadowing the federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed R. Kelly in jail in 2019.
The trial is occurring before an anonymous jury of seven men and five women. Following several delays due mostly to the pandemic, the trial unfolds under coronavirus precautions restricting the press and the public to overflow courtrooms with video feeds.
The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.