Woman testifies R. Kelly sexually abused her when she was 16

R Kelly Appears In Court In Chicago For Status Hearing
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Singer R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on September 17, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Kelly is facing multiple sexual assault charges and is being held without bail. (Photo by Antonio Perez - Pool via Getty Images)
Antonio Perez/Pool/Getty Images

(CNN) — Federal prosecutors in New York began their case against R. Kelly with graphic testimony from a woman who says the R&B singer sexually abused her when she was 16 years old, and that she has a T-shirt with his semen on it.

Jerhonda Johnson Pace, now 28, testified Wednesday that she was such a big fan of Kelly’s that she attended the singer’s Chicago trial for state child pornography charges in 2008. Kelly was acquitted of the charges in June 2008.

The year after the trial, Pace said Kelly invited her to his home in the suburbs of Chicago where Pace testified that she had a sexual relationship with the singer for about six months when she was 16. When the relationship ended months later, Pace said she gave a T-shirt that had Kelly’s semen on it to an attorney who was representing her.

Assistant US Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said in her opening statement Wednesday that Kelly’s DNA was found in semen on the T-shirt.

CNN has reached out to attorneys for Kelly for comment on the DNA found on the T-shirt. Nicole Blank Becker, an attorney for Kelly, said in her opening statement that Pace “is a self-proclaimed liar.”

The singer, 54, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering and violating the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking law.

Separately from this case, Kelly faces federal child pornography and obstruction charges in the Northern District of Illinois, and faces state charges there for multiple counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He has strongly denied the accusations.

Pace: ‘I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone I was spending time with him’

Pace, who was one of the women who participated in the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” testified that when Kelly invited her to his home in 2009, the singer told her to bring a bathing suit.

“I told him I was 19,” she testified. “I was 16.”

Pace said that day at his home, Kelly told her to walk past him and take off parts of her bathing suit, and that when she was nude he performed oral sex on her. She said she felt uncomfortable and decided to tell him her real age. “I told him I was actually 16,” Pace testified.

In her testimony, Pace said she showed Kelly her state ID with her real age, and that he responded by saying, “What is that supposed to mean?” Pace testified Kelly told her she should “continue to tell everyone she was 19 and to act 21.” She told him she was a virgin, and Kelly said “that’s good” in response, Pace testified. She said he had her perform oral sex on him, and that he took her virginity.

Pace delivered her testimony stoically, telling the court she is now the mother of four children with another one on the way, due “any day.” Kelly looked on during her testimony dressed in a gray suit with dark-rimmed glasses, occasionally speaking with his attorneys.

Pace testified that as a 16-year-old, her sexual relationship with Kelly continued for six months and that, at times, she would be at his home in the Chicago suburbs unable to leave rooms she was in.

“I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone I was spending time with him,” Pace testified.

She also testified Kelly took her cell phone away from her. “He didn’t want me in contact with anyone but him,” Pace said.

“We were not able to leave out of the rooms. It was a part of the rules. Rob’s rules,” Pace testified, using the singer’s first name.

The relationship came to a halt in January 2010, Pace testified, after she and Kelly got into a fight when he became upset that she didn’t acknowledge him as he walked into a room, and Pace said Kelly slapped her and choked her “until I passed out.”

Pace testified that after she awoke, Kelly spit in her face. She then performed oral sex on him and he ejaculated on her face. Pace testified she wiped her face with her blue T-shirt. Kelly had asked her to retrieve a pair of high heels at a family member’s home nearby, and Pace testified she left his house and did not return.

The blue T-shirt, Pace testified, was turned over to an attorney she retained later that month, in January 2010. The attorney, Pace said, didn’t recommend pressing charges, but did work on her behalf to file a civil suit against Kelly, which was settled outside of court.

Prosecutors showed a copy of the settlement Pace entered into when she was 16 as evidence in court.

“In exchange for my silence, I would be paid $1.5 million — $1 million to myself and $500,000 to my attorneys,” Pace testified.

But Pace said she told a friend about what happened between her and Kelly and the friend recorded the conversation. Kelly learned about the conversation, and Pace said her attorney told her she’d breached the contract.

Pace also testified she had mixed feelings about ending her relationship with Kelly and began returning some of the settlement money to one of Kelly’s managers.

“I wasn’t happy about having to go through these steps,” Pace said.

Pace testified that, ultimately, in 2017, she decided to go back to her lawyer’s office and retrieve evidence she’d given them, including a journal, the blue T-shirt and a cell phone, and turned them into police, where she said she filed a police report.

In her opening statements, Melendez told the jury in the Brooklyn courtroom that the “case is about a predator. A man who, for decades, used his fame, his popularity and a network of people at his disposal to target girls, boys and young women for his own sexual gratification.”

Kelly’s defense attorney, in contrast, told jurors that many of the charges against him are “overreaching” and that many of the relationships Kelly had were consensual.

“These women, these witnesses who take the stand — he didn’t recruit them,” Becker, Kelly’s defense attorney, said in her opening statements. “Ladies and gentlemen, you will hear that they were fans, that they came to Mr. Kelly.”

Prosecutors expected to present video evidence

There is a mountain of evidence that is expected to be presented during the trial, including videos of alleged abuse and more testimony from both victims and former associates of Kelly. Multiple charges allege that Kelly sexually abused underage girls and filmed those incidents in the years after his 2008 acquittal.

There are also former associates of Kelly — who pleaded guilty to crimes related to allegedly threatening or harassing Kelly’s accusers — who may be cooperating with the government. They include Richard Arline, who allegedly offered an unnamed witness $500,000 in May 2020 “in exchange for not continuing to cooperate with the government against Kelly,” according to a criminal complaint.

Arline pleaded guilty in February to one count of bribery and is expected to be sentenced at a later date. Prosecutors have not responded to requests for comment on whether he is expected to testify in Kelly’s New York trial. An attorney for Arline has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

“At no time did Mr. Kelly have anything to do with the actions Arline took,” Kelly defense attorney Thomas Farinella told CNN.