During R. Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial, a man named Damon Pryor testified that he’d been told that the tape at the center of that court proceeding—one that pretty clearly showed Kelly having sex with and urinating on an underage girl—had been fabricated by two men from Kansas City named Chuck and Keith. Pryor’s ex-girlfriend Lisa Van Allen, who Pryor alleged was the source of this information, forcefully denied that claim. In her own testimony, Van Allen said that Kelly had offered to pay her $250,000 to retrieve an entirely different sex tape—one that featured Kelly, Van Allen, and the same underage girl at the center of the 2008 trial. Van Allen said she’d stolen that tape from Kelly’s duffel bag and had then given it to a guy by the name of Keith who lived in Kansas City.
When I was in Chicago covering Kelly’s trial, these Chuck-and-Keith-related machinations were a bizarre and tantalizing sideshow. At one point, the two men announced that they were coming to the city for a tell-all press conference. “The truth lies in Kansas!” Charles “Chuck” Freeman told the Chicago Sun-Times in a phone interview. Keith Murrell added, “Everything will come out when we get to Chicago. It will be big news.” I remember hanging out with another reporter one night, waiting for a phone call about when and where this explosive presser was going to happen. It never did. Chuck and Keith didn’t tell the media what they knew and they never testified during the trial. R. Kelly was acquitted on June 13, 2008.
More than a decade later, the indefatigable Kelly chronicler Jim DeRogatis has reported in the New Yorker that a “videotape from … R. Kelly’s past may soon lead to his indictment in Illinois.” Stormy Daniels’ lawyer (and erstwhile presidential candidate) Michael Avenatti tweeted on Thursday that he is in possession of a 45-minute “VHS videotape of Mr. Kelly engaging in multiple sexual assaults of a girl underage” and that “the time frame of sexual assaults depicted in the video is within the Illinois statute of limitations.” Given my belief that Kelly is a serial child predator, it was heartening to read that, per DeRogatis’ law enforcement source, “Kelly could be arrested soon.” And given my reporting in 2008, I was very interested to see that DeRogatis’ story referenced one Charles “Chuck” Freeman.
In the New Yorker piece, DeRogatis reports that Freeman claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that he’d been hired by Kelly’s private investigator “to track down any videotapes related to Kelly that might be ‘on the streets.’ ” DeRogatis goes on to mention that press-conference-that-never-was during Kelly’s 2008 trial, as well as the fact that “what became of any other videotapes [that Chuck and Keith] might have found remained a mystery.”
While DeRogatis didn’t reach Chuck and Keith, he did speak with Lisa Van Allen, who also told her story in the recent Lifetime docu-series Surviving R. Kelly. In her conversation with DeRogatis, Van Allen—who says she started a relationship with Kelly when she was 17—referred back to her allegation that Kelly would carry around a duffel bag full of sex tapes and said, again, that she removed a tape from Kelly’s bag because “I just didn’t want that tape out there.” She told DeRogatis “that prosecutors never seemed all that interested in the tape, even though a second video showing Kelly with an underage girl might have led to a conviction.”
One of Kelly’s lawyers memorably refuted Van Allen’s duffel bag claim during the 2008 trial, saying that Kelly does not “carry around a bag full of porno tapes like he was a porno Santa Claus.” And as DeRogatis notes, Kelly’s manager released a statement after Van Allen testified in 2008 stating that “Lisa Van Allen is an admitted thief and a liar, who wouldn’t know the truth if she tripped over it.”
If prosecutors are indeed now in possession of another Kelly sex tape, it seems likely that—given the publicity generated by DeRogatis’ persistent reporting, the #MuteRKelly movement, and Surviving R. Kelly—they will be very interested in it. It also feels more likely than it has at any time since 2008 that we’ll finally hear from the elusive Chuck and Keith, either in a press conference or a court of law.
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