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Federal Prosecutors Ask Judge to Let R. Kelly’s Alleged Victims Testify Under Pseudonyms to ‘Protect Their Safety and Well-Being’


R. Kelly appears in court

“Jane Doe” witnesses who claim that R&B singer R. Kelly sexually exploited them as minors or as young women should be allowed to testify under pseudonyms or only their first names, federal prosecutors told a judge on Saturday.

In a memorandum setting the stage for an Aug. 18 racketeering trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Geddes argued that shielding the identities of these witnesses would be necessary in light of the “sensitive and personal” nature of their testimony. The singer is identified in court papers as Robert Sylvester Kelly, as well as by his stage name.

“The limited protections requested by the government for the Victim-Witnesses’ personal identifiers are reasonable, necessary and appropriate to protect their safety and well-being, avoid harassment of the Victim-Witnesses by the press and others, and prevent undue embarrassment and other adverse consequences, such as retaliation by the defendant’s supporters, need for relocation, or loss of employment,” prosecutors wrote in a 15-page legal brief. “The Victim-Witnesses are expected to testify in explicit detail and/or be the subject of highly sensitive and personal testimony concerning their medical history and illegal sexual abuse by the defendant, some of which occurred while most of the Victim-Witnesses were under the age of 18.”

“The Long Memory of the Internet”

The government notes the case has garnered “significant attention from local, national and international media sources,” citing more than half a dozen examples of news articles in the footnotes.

“This attention has not only consisted of discussions regarding the case generally, but has included attempts by members of the public to determine the identities of the Jane Does named in the Indictment and other potential witnesses, as well as online campaigns aimed at individuals presumed to be connected to the trial,” the memo notes, linking to Newsweek’s report on the Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning.

Two of Kelly’s alleged victims, identified only as Jane Doe #2 and Jane Doe #3, have managed to preserve their anonymity against this backdrop, prosecutors say.

“While Jane Doe #5 has spoken publicly about some of her experiences with the defendant, her anticipated testimony at trial will be more fulsome than her prior public disclosures and will include sensitive information that has not been previously publicly revealed,” the memo states. “Publicly revealing the Victim-Witnesses’ identities would cause needless anxiety and social stigma, which concerns are further heightened by the defendant’s notoriety and the long memory of the internet.”

Jane Does

According to the government, Jane Doe #2 is expected to testify that she was 16 years old when she met R. Kelly in Chicago in 1999. A member of what prosecutors describe as the racketeering “enterprise” allegedly approached her at a fast food restaurant. Prosecutors claim that the singer filmed himself having sexual intercourse with the minor, “thereby producing child pornography.”

Jane Doe #3 is expected to testify that she met Kelly in 2003 at a mall outside of Illinois. A radio station intern then in her early twenties, the young woman accepted an invitation to visit the singer’s recording studio for what she says she thought was related to her employment, according to prosecutors.

Court papers state what allegedly happened next:

Once there, she was escorted to a room within the studio by one of the defendant’s associates, who also took and searched her suitcase. Later, while in the room, another associate made a copy of Jane Doe #3’s driver’s license, directed her to sign what she believed to be a nondisclosure agreement, and advised her not to talk to anyone and to keep her head down. Jane Doe #3 ultimately spent approximately three days in the room, which was locked, without sustenance. After a member of the Enterprise eventually provided her with food and a drink, she became tired and dizzy. She woke up some time thereafter and saw that the defendant was with her in the room and that her underwear had been removed without her knowledge or consent, which in combination with other circumstances, made it apparent that the defendant had sexually abused her while she was unconscious.

Jane Doe #5 is expected to testify that she was 15 years old when met R. Kelly in Florida in 2015. The singer also allegedly filmed himself having sex with her, again “thereby producing child pornography,” prosecutors say.

“As a result of the defendant’s actions, Jane Doe #5 contracted an incurable sexually transmitted disease at the age of 17,” the memo alleges.

“Respect for their Dignity and Privacy”

Prosecutors say that forcing those witnesses to identify themselves in open court would only serve to “harass, embarrass and ‘to humiliate or annoy'” them, a result that the government finds at odds with the “respect for their dignity and privacy” that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act was designed to safeguard.

“Indeed, requiring victims of sex crimes to provide their names in public could chill their willingness to testify, for fear of having their personal histories publicized, and the embarrassment and humiliation that such publicity could cause them as they rebuild their lives,” the memo states.

“In addition, a ruling requiring the Victim-Witnesses to disclose their full identities publicly could cause other victims—including minor victims—to avoid seeking help from law enforcement because of fear that coming forward could subject them to further harassment and embarrassment, as well as retaliation by a defendant’s supporters,” it continues.

Prosecutors also asked the judge to prevent public disclosure of their “addresses, names of family members or exact place of employment, if any.” R. Kelly’s defense attorney Thomas Farinella, who has been representing the singer after a well-publicized fallout within the legal team, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Read the government’s memo below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."