A former girlfriend of R. Kelly sobbed in a federal courtroom on Thursday as she testified that Kelly’s longtime business manager told her in 2007 that they should have killed her instead of paying her for return her an incriminating video of Kelly having sex with her and a 14-year-old-girl.
Lisa Van Allen, 42, took the witness stand on the ninth day of Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago, where the disgraced R&B star and two associates, Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, “are charged with conspired to pay witnesses and buy back sex tapes to cover up years of sexual misconduct by Kelly.
Van Allen testified that in the late 1990s she had sexual contact with Kelly and her underage goddaughter at the request of the singer, who also filmed and directed their encounters. After taking one of the tapes and sending it to a friend in Kansas City, Kelly offered her $250,000 to get it back, she said.
Near the end of her direct exam, Van Allen broke down in tears as she described how McDavid threatened her in a Chicago attorney’s office after she failed a polygraph test on the tape.
“He said I failed (the test) and they should have suffocated me from the start” – that is, they should have killed her.
Afterward, at McDavid’s request, she made a false statement to an attorney denying ever having sexual contact with Kelly’s goddaughter, who testified earlier in the trial under the pseudonym “Jane.”
“He told me to say it and I was afraid that I wouldn’t do what he asked of me,” she said, then broke down crying, tilting her head as she held a trembling hand over his mouth. “I never knew they were thinking of killing me.”
Van Allen said she was upset by the comment and told McDavid she would speak to Kelly about it. “He said Rob knew everything that was going on,” she said in an emotional voice.
At the defense table, McDavid pursed his lips and turned to Kelly, who was seated behind him, and slowly shook his head.
During vigorous cross-examination Thursday afternoon, Beau Brindley, an attorney for McDavid, confronted Van Allen about her claim that she had been threatened, pointing out that McDavid was Kelly’s business manager and suggesting that any that was a lie.
“You had no reason to believe he was some kind of murderous accountant, did you?” Brindley said.
Brindley asked why, if Van Allen’s goal was to keep people from seeing the sex tape, she didn’t just destroy it after she stole it.
“I could have had that thought crossed my mind,” she said. She also denied taking the tape because she wanted to use it to extort money from Kelly.
In perhaps a preview of McDavid’s promised testimony later in the trial, Brindley alleged there was never a tape of Kelly having sex with Van Allen and Jane – instead, Van Allen actually flipped a tape of herself having a threesome with Kelly and his wife. Van Allen categorically denied this.
Brindley also suggested that Van Allen is a serial liar and manipulator.
“A person who feigns emotion by lying to try to manipulate others, is that a person you should trust?” Brindley asked. Van Allen said she didn’t know what he was talking about.
In past statements, Van Allen has always said she was 17 when she first met Kelly. On the witness stand Thursday, however, she said that although she thought it was the truth at the time, she now acknowledges that she was in fact 18.
Brindley accused her of lying about being underage to get attention.
“You wanted to be a victim!” he said. “To sell books!”
The allegation sparked an outcry of reactions and comments in the courtroom. On the witness stand, Van Allen shook his head and rolled his eyes slightly.
Brindley also repeatedly asked Van Allen about discrepancies in statements she’s made about the tape over the years. At one point, when he started asking her about her testimony before a federal grand jury in 2019, Van Allen started crying.
Brindley asked, sarcastically, if there was “anything particularly sad” about asking him about his grand jury testimony. “Yes! I’m sick of you asking me if I watched child pornography! She cried. Brindley scoffed.
At least twice, prosecutors objected to questioning, saying Brindley was harassing the witness. And Judge Harry Leinenweber repeatedly told him to get things done faster.
To illustrate his point about Van Allen’s potentially inconsistent statements, Brindley presented the jurors with an excerpt from the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.” And for a while after the clip ended, the screens froze on an establishment shot – so Van Allen was testifying with the Chicago skyline in the background.
Jurors watched much of Van Allen’s testimony intently, many taking notes and some leaning forward in their seats, setting notebooks on the bench in front of them.
Van Allen was a controversial witness in Kelly’s first criminal trial in Cook County 14 years ago, which ended in the singer’s acquittal. As then, Van Allen was testifying Thursday under immunity granted by prosecutors.
Van Allen testified that she met “Jane”, Kelly’s goddaughter, in 1998. Jane would have been around 14 at the time, but Kelly told Van Allen she was 16, Van Allen said .
The three of them had three sexual encounters over the next three years, Van Allen testified, and Kelly filmed them all. Van Allen used his hands to act out for the jury how Kelly would set up the tripod and video camera.
At the beginning of his testimony. Van Allen was calm but somewhat nervous, swiveling in her chair and stopping often to sip a bottle of water. When she started discussing sexual contact with young Jane, her face turned very dark.
During the second trio filmed, in 1999, Van Allen began to cry because she did not want to participate, she testified.
“(Kelly) said ‘what was he going to do with that?’ …I guess because it wouldn’t have been a good sequence to watch if I was crying there.
A meeting in 2000 was interrupted by Kelly’s team, Van Allen said. Kelly ordered “Jane” to hide in the bathroom, she testified, a request he did not make to Van Allen.
That same year, Jane told Van Allen that she would be getting a PT Cruiser for her 16th birthday. Van Allen was upset because she had felt like Jane was 16 two years earlier when they first had sex, she testified.
After that, Van Allen said, “I didn’t want to do threesomes anymore. I didn’t want to do the premieres, but I definitely didn’t want any more dating. Because she was 14! She must have been 14 years old.
Kelly carried his sex tapes with him in a gym bag, Van Allen testified. And at some point around the year 2000, she realized that she was alone with this bag and went to get all the tapes she was on.
“I didn’t want him to have them,” she said. “I didn’t want him looking at them or having them in his possession.”
Van Allen gave the tape to her friend Keith Murrell, she testified.
It wasn’t until 2007 that she heard there might be copies of the tape for sale, and she got worried, she said. She didn’t want it and thought Kelly would help her get it back, she testified.
“He had a trial coming up for a similar tape, and on that one it actually said how old she was,” she said.
Van Allen met Kelly at her Olympia Fields mansion, where Kelly got into a hot tub with her before offering to give him $250,000 to get the tape back. He also told her to take care of McDavid “from now on,” she testified.
After that, she and Murrell took the tape back and took a series of polygraph tests, she said. They received some of McDavid’s money in return, and Van Allen was told they would receive the rest after Kelly’s trial, she said.
After McDavid told her she failed the third polygraph she testified, he made the comment about how they should have killed her.
Van Allen said Thursday that she met Kelly in 1998, when she was 18. She was introduced to him during a video shoot and soon after began traveling to meet him in Chicago, she said.
Shortly after, she moved outright to Chicago and began a romantic relationship with Kelly, she testified. Kelly kept making her miss her flights when she visited, she said.
“I told him ‘I couldn’t keep missing my flights, I’m going to get fired’,” she testified. “He asked me what I had done and I told him. He ended up giving me the money.
Kelly would tell her what to do and what to say during sex, she testified, and would often film them having sex, especially when they were having threesomes, she testified.
Kelly did not allow her to speak or make eye contact with other men in her presence, she said. He would hit her if she “didn’t listen to dad,” she said.
Kelly, 55, is charged with 13 counts of producing child pornography, conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to obstruct justice. McDavid and Brown, according to the indictment, conspired to redeem incriminating sex tapes that had been extracted from Kelly’s collection and conceal years of alleged sexual abuse of underage girls.
Jurors in the closely watched case have so far heard from 14 other witnesses, including Jane, who testified last week that Kelly filmed sexual encounters with her when she was just 14, then did pressure and ultimately paid her and her family to remain silent. Excerpts from three of those videos were shown to the jury on Friday.
This week was dominated by another key prosecution witness, Charles Freeman, a Kansas City merchandiser who told the jury that Kelly and his associates agreed to pay him up to $1 million in the early 1990s. 2000 to track down other incriminating videos before they can be made public.
The best stories from the editors of the Chicago Tribune, delivered to your inbox every afternoon.