- R. Kelly’s former tour manager was forced to testify about the night R. Kelly learned 15-year-old Aaliyah was pregnant.
- The manager said he bribed an official for a fake ID so Kelly could marry the teen.
- Demetrius Smith tried to plead the fifth, but was ordered to take the stand.
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Demetrius Smith, R. Kelly’s former tour manager, was ordered to take the stand Friday to tell jurors about the night the singer learned he had gotten 15-year-old Aaliyah pregnant.
Smith, who started working with Kelly in the ’80s when he was performing at talent shows and in subway stations, tried to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege not to self-incriminate, but was granted immunity from prosecution and ordered on Friday to testify against the singer.
Kelly is on trial for a long list of alleged crimes, including charges related to bribing a government official to obtain a fake ID so he could take Aaliyah as his child bride. Smith reluctantly admitted that he was the man who found and paid the official – a welfare office employee – for the ID so Kelly could marry Aaliyah and avoid prosecution for having sex with a minor.
Kelly denies any wrongdoing.
Throughout his time on the stand, Smith pushed back at the prosecution’s questioning. He said he didn’t want to be there and that he was “uncomfortable” talking about Aaliyah without her parents there.
“I feel like I’m on trial for Aaliyah. Shit,” he said, at one point.
Judge Ann Donnelly insisted he answer, and Smith shared details about the illegal relationship between young Aaliyah and Kelly. It is illegal for an adult to have sex with a 15-year-old in Michigan and Illinois.
Smith said he and Kelly met the Aaliyah through her uncle, Barry Hankerson, who was also Kelly’s manager.
Kelly and Smith flew to Aaliyah’s home in Detroit in 1992 to listen to her sing – at her uncle’s request. The meeting went well, Smith said, describing Aaliyah’s voice as “angelic.” Kelly then began writing and producing her music.
Smith first told the court Friday that Kelly’s time with Aaliyah, including when Kelly asked to be alone with her, was all about her music, but then the prosecution pressed him on the issue, showing him his prior Grand Jury testimony.
Eventually, Smith admitted that he had confronted Kelly at least once about his relationship with Aaliyah after feeling they were “too playful.” He recalled at one point asking Kelly if he was “messing around” with her.
Smith said he believed Kelly when he denied that was the case, but then one night in the middle of a performance in Orlando in August of 1994, Kelly made him immediately arrange for travel back to his home in Chicago.
“Aaliyah’s in trouble, man. We need to get home,” Smith testified that Kelly told him that night.
Bribery and a marriage
Smith testified at first, Kelly didn’t share any details about what was wrong with Aaliyah, but ordered him to book a round-trip flight.
Smith said he wanted to call Hankerson to see what was going on with Aaliyah, but was told not to. After the show, Kelly, Smith, and other employees boarded a plane to Chicago and the singer “cried a lot,” admitting to Smith that Aaliyah was pregnant, he testified.
“That was a shock,” Smith told the court.
Kelly told Smith that his other manager, Derrel McDavid, was making arrangements for the singer to marry the teenager, “to protect himself, to protect Aaliyah,” Smith testified.
When asked what Kelly would be protecting himself against, Smith responded: “Shit. Jail, I guess.”
When the plane landed in Chicago, Smith said he urged Kelly not to try and marry the teenager.
“She was too young. He was confused,” Smith recalled.
But then Kelly started asking Smith whose “side” he was on, and the tour manager started to feel like he was being pushed out of the singer’s life.
To avoid losing his place in Kelly’s inner circle, Smith told the singer, McDavid, and Aaliyah that he knew how to get the teenager a fake ID that made her look old enough to legally marry the singer.
He then went to a local welfare office and offered a woman $US500 ($AU700) to make her an ID. The group then went to a nearby FedEx or similar shipping store and had an associate make the teen a fake employment ID as backup, before Kelly and Aaliyah went to the Cook County clerk’s office to apply for a marriage license.
The clerk accepted the IDs, and the group went back to the hotel suite where a minister performed a ceremony to marry them, Smith said.
A marriage license shown to the jury Friday indicated they were wed on August 31, 1994. Aaliyah’s age was listed as 18 – three years older than her actual age.
Aaliyah’s underage marriage to Kelly was annulled in February 1995 by her parents. She died six years later, at 22, in a plane crash off the Bahamas.
Court went into recess for the weekend at 5:30 p.m. and the prosecution plans to continue questioning Smith Monday morning.
Kelly’s trial is expected to last four weeks.