Nia was just 15 when she left her Atlanta home and flew to Minneapolis in 1996, at the request of R&B superstar R Kelly, twice her age.
She had no identity and did not tell her mother where she was going, Nia, now 42, told a federal jury on Tuesday. After a white limousine was picked up to take her to the airport, he asked the driver to stop at the gas station, and he bought a rose to give to Kelly.
“I wanted him to know how I felt about him,” she said. “And I thought it would be a gesture that would be sweet.”
Instead, Kelly sexually assaulted her in a hotel room, and she hurried away before she could give him the rose, she testified. After another inappropriate encounter at Kelly’s Chicago recording studio, he stopped returning his phone calls. When she saw him again a few years later at a video shoot in California, she admitted to not knowing him, she said.
After calling some 25 witnesses in 10 days of testifying against the disgraced singer and her two co-defendants, Nia’s traumatic story was one of the last things before prosecutors put their case-in-chief to rest on Tuesday.
Judge Harry Leinenweber adjourned the hearing until Thursday morning, when defense lawyers can begin calling their witnesses.
In a surprise move, prosecutors closed after calling only four of Kelly’s five accusers, who they said the jury would hear during the trial.
It was unclear why prosecutors did not call the fifth alleged victim, “Britney,” to the stand as they promised to do. Assistant US Attorney Jason Julian told jurors in early statements that Brittany was 16 when Kelly first had sexual contact with her.
It does not appear that prosecutors intend to drop any charges relating to Brittany, so the jury will have to rely on under oath testimony about her from other witnesses to decide its verdict on those cases.
Kelly’s granddaughter, “Jane,” testified at the beginning of the trial that Kelly engaged Brittany five to 10 times with her in threes. For the first time, Jane was about 15, and Brittany was a little older, Jane testified. The two girls’ friendship fell apart when Jen learns that Britney is also seeing Kelly differently, she testified.
“Paulin” testified this week that Kelly also did threesomes with her and Brittany when Pauline was 15 or 16, adding that Britney is about a year older than her. Pauline said that when she was 20, she posed for Kelly’s business as Brittany and threatened to go public about doing something wrong if she didn’t give her money.
“Well, he called it extortion,” she memorably testified. “I called it ‘don’t play with me’.”
Meanwhile, Nia testified in a soft voice on Tuesday that she had met Kelly in the spring of 1996 at a shopping mall in Atlanta. He approached the singer for an autograph, and he even wrote his phone number on the paper when Kelly gave him his signature.
They started a phone conversation, and during one, he told her she was 15, he said. He said he wanted her to come see one of his shows, and arranged for her to go to Minnesota for a concert, he testified.
A limousine picked him up at his mother’s apartment in Atlanta – and on his way to the airport they stopped at a gas station so he could pick up a rose. She went to concerts in Minnesota, and Kelly came to her hotel room the next day, she said.
Kelly hugged him and kissed him while greeting him on his lips, she said. He asked if they could be photographed together, but Kelly declined.
Kelly instructed Nia to take off her clothes, turn around, and then sit next to her on the bed, she testified.
He complied, and Kelly kissed her, asked her if she was a virgin, and began performing a sexual act on herself, she testified.
When he was finished, he left the room in a hurry, he testified.
“He cleaned himself and he left,” she said. “I never got a chance to give her a rose.”
Kelly had mentioned a desire to see him in Chicago, and Nia arranged to live with family there after leaving school in the summer of 1996, she testified. One night she went with three cousins to visit him in his studio, she said.
Kelly greeted them, but expressed surprise that she didn’t come alone, she testified. He called her away twice during the night so that they could kiss alone in the hallway. He held her under his pants during one of those instances, he testified.
Nia didn’t tell her cousins about it, she testified: “The reason they came was to prevent anything from happening, and I didn’t want them to know.”
He tried to contact her several times later that summer and he never got back to her, she testified.
They met again sometime in California, during a video shoot for Kelly’s “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time”, Nia testified. She said that at that time she was an aspiring actress and model. Kelly didn’t know who she was.
“He never acknowledged me or talked to me, but sometimes I thought he would look in my direction and maybe recognize me,” she said.
In 2002, Nia filed suit against Kelly with allegations of underage sexual contact, and Kelly agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the claim, she testified.
Upon cross-examination, Bonzen suspects that Nia may be boarding a flight without identification, as she testified, and pressures her to ask whether she had in fact told Kelly her age. Nia was adamant that she did.
“If you had told him you were 15, you would have also discussed the fact that your mother would not give or consent to leave the state of Georgia, get on a plane on your own, and go see an older man.” ?”
Prosecutors protested, and Leinenweber upheld the objection.
He said that Nia’s mother was a nurse and by the time the limousine came to pick up Nia for her trip to Minnesota, she had already left for work.
Bonjin insisted that Nia filed her lawsuit “not long” after Kelly rebuked her at a music video shoot, and was in trouble when she heard that Kelly was accused of child pornography.
Nia testified that she contacted attorneys to see if she could be helpful as a witness against Kelly – a claim Bonzen was skeptical about.
“You contacted a private attorney… because you might be helpful in criminal prosecution?” He asked. “You didn’t contact the Cook County state attorney and tell them?”
Prosecutors briefly called Sheryl Ware, who identified herself as the ex-wife of Nia’s cousin. She was among a group of cousins who had come to Kelly’s studio, she said.
Ware noted that he recognized Kelly because he was wearing the same shirt he wore in the music video for “Gotham City”, and they were in the studio that night until morning.
As they were leaving, Kelly said, “Let me talk to (Nia) for a minute,” Ware testified.
“I was like ‘You get five minutes.’ So they went out in the hallway,” she said. “They were there in exactly five minutes, ’cause I’m out in five minutes.”
Jury members heard Monday about two other women who testified about his sexual contact with Kelly at an early age. Pauline said she had sexual contact with the disgraced singer hundreds, if not hundreds of times, when she was young, and Tracy — who testified using only her first name — sexually assaulted Kelly and had sex with her at the age of 16. He told in great detail about the attack that happened to him in age.
Both women came under intense cross-examination from Bonzen, who claimed that both women had actually reached 17 – Illinois’ age of consent – when he began his sexual relationship with Kelly.