Uneasy witness testifies against R. Kelly at federal trial

In this courtroom artist's sketch R. Kelly, left, listens during his trial in New York, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. The 54-year-old Kelly has repeatedly denied accusations that he preyed on several alleged victims during a 30-year career highlighted by his mega hit "I Believe I Can Fly."(AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams) (Elizabeth Williams)

NEW YORK – A woman reluctantly took the witness stand against R. Kelly on Thursday to recount how he struck up a relationship with her in 2006 when she was 15, but dodged a prosecutor’s questions about when they first had sex.

“I don’t recall how old I was,” the woman, now 31, testified at Kelly's New York City sex-trafficking trial.

When pressed further on the timing, she demurred, saying, “It’s hard. It was 16 years ago.”

The witness stood apart from other women who have testified for the government against the R&B superstar in Brooklyn federal court by not accusing him of sexually abusing her when she was underage.

“Do you want to be here today?” the prosecutor asked at one point. “No,” she responded.”

Despite her reluctance, the woman gave testimony mirroring that of Kelly's key accusers — how he groomed her by inviting her backstage at one of her shows, getting her to sign a non-disclosure agreement and eventually paying for flights to join him at hotels in cities where he had concerts and for visits to his Chicago-area mansion. Some of her early contact with him occurred around the time he was being prosecuted for a child pornography case that ended in his acquittal at a 2008 trial.

She testified about agreeing to have threesomes with another woman with Kelly. She described how the defendant had her put on lingerie and interact with a girlfriend who was wearing a leash and collar.

"She was on her hands and knees and I was walking her,” she said.

Kelly’s defense team declined to cross-examine the witness, a signal it believed she didn’t do much damage.

Kelly, 54, has repeatedly denied accusations that he led a criminal enterprise that sexually exploited women, girls and even boys during a 30-year career highlighted by his anthem “I Believe I Can Fly.” His lawyers have portrayed his accusers as groupies who are lying about their relationships with him.

Kelly has been trailed for decades by complaints and allegations about his sexual behavior. The scrutiny intensified again amid the #MeToo movement in recent years, with multiple women going public with accusations against the singer that have resulted in federal criminal charges in New York and Chicago, keeping him in jail since 2019.