NEW YORK — An eighth accuser took the stand on Monday in the federal case against R. Kelly to testify that she was sexually assaulted during a trip to his Chicago studio to interview him for her job.
The Jane Doe, who was introduced as “Sonja,” accused Kelly, who is currently on trial in Brooklyn facing charges of racketeering and violating the Mann Act, of sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious at his Chocolate Factory studio when she was 21. In her testimony, Sonja, who is represented by Gloria Allred, was speaking out about the alleged assault for the first time.
“It made me feel like something happened to me. I know my body,” she told the courtroom. “I felt like somebody, something had been inside of me.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez asked Sonja what she thought had happened while she was unconscious. “I believe I was touched … sexually.”
Sonja also accused Kelly of holding her against her will in a locked room at the studio and depriving her of food and water for at least two days. She said that Kelly’s employee also threatened her to keep quiet, telling her, “Don’t fuck with Mr. Kelly.”
Sonja, who is now 39 years old, testified that she met the R&B artist when he was at a mall in Salt Lake City on Aug. 12, 2003. She was just starting her career in media as an intern at a local radio station and decided to go to the mall to try to get an interview with him.
“It would’ve been my first huge celebrity interview,” Sonja said. “I thought it would really kickstart my career.”
When she and her friend approached Kelly’s tour bus in the mall parking lot to ask for an interview, he pointed her in the direction of someone in his entourage and told him to “ask him.” Sonja said that the man, who she believed was his manager, declined to do an interview that day, refusing to go to the radio station or do a phone interview “because it sounds off.” While Sonja and her friend were taking a photo with Kelly, someone slipped a piece of paper that had the singer’s name and number on it, she said.
That same day, she called to ask again about the interview. Kelly and Sonja spoke over the phone a few times and she testified that “at some point” he agreed to do the interview.
Kelly’s team paid for and arranged travel for Sonja to fly from Salt Lake City to Chicago. Sonja said she informed her boss about the interview, and he gave her a recording device to take with her. She said the interview was “kind of a big deal” and that she was prepared for it.
She traveled to Chicago by herself, bringing her grandparents’ cell phone with her as she couldn’t afford the long-distance fees that would incur with her phone plan. After missing her first flight, she caught a later one and landed in Chicago that night. She called the assistant who arranged the travel and was told to take a cab to the Chocolate Factory.
Sonja said she was greeted by Kelly’s security, who asked her if she needed “protection.” Confused by the question, he clarified that he meant a condom. She said she responded, “No, I’m not here for that.”
She was escorted to a room at the studio with her luggage and was asked for ID, her phone and the last few numbers that she had dialed along with the relation and addresses of the people those numbers were associated with. Sonja also testified to being asked to sign a confidentiality agreement, which she said was hard to read as the room was dark. She said that someone had also searched through her luggage without her consent and she was given a list of rules that she needed to follow while she was at the Chocolate Factory.
After being left in the room alone for a few minutes, she tried to open the door. It was locked from the outside, she testified. Initially she thought it was an accident, she said, but after she began knocking and banging on the door with no answers, it became more and more evident that it wasn’t.
“I was scared, for one,” she said. “I was ashamed. I was embarrassed.”
Sonja was in the room for days without seeing Kelly. She used the landline provided by reception to ask to be let out of the windowless room but was denied. She was let out and escorted when she needed to use the restroom, at times being forced to leave the door open. Sometimes reception would answer her calls; sometimes they wouldn’t if they knew it was her calling, she said. When she called to ask for food or water, the receptionist told her that the request “had to get approved by Mr. Kelly.”
Sonia was able to keep her grandparents’ cell phone, which she used to talk to her family and friends “as much as I could.” She testified to only telling Charity about the details of her experience.
At one point, she was escorted to take a shower, she told Cruz Melendez. Soon after, someone brought her Chinese food and a soft drink on a green tray. She testified to only taking a few bites of the food and a few sips of the drink before she felt “extremely full” and “tired.”
She said that she lost consciousness, but didn’t recall falling asleep. “I don’t remember how I got from my chair at the table to the couch.”
She said she woke up disoriented with her underwear off and she was on the arm of the couch. She testified that she didn’t remove her underwear, as she was unconscious.
“There was some wet stuff between my legs … and on my thighs,” she said. She noticed Kelly “doing up his pants in the corner” of the room. It was the first time she had seen the singer since arriving days prior for the interview.
Sonja said once she saw him, she got up from the couch, asked him how he was doing and hugged him. As she reached to hug him, she testified that Kelly grabbed her butt “with both hands” and said that he’d be back.
Shortly after he left the room, one of his employees told Sonja that he would not be coming back. She was then told she had to sign a second confidentiality agreement. She said the employee told her, “Don’t fuck with Mr. Kelly.” She was able to leave soon after.
“He was threatening me,” she said. She recalled the addresses of her loved ones that she had given to Kelly’s employee upon her arrival to the Chocolate Factory. She said she especially feared for the safety of her young daughter.
“Did you take that threat to heart?” Cruz Melendez asked Sonja, to which she replied, “Yes.”
During cross-examination, Kelly’s lead defense attorney Deveraux Cannick asked Sonja if she had hired Allred after the “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries premiered, to which she said yes. The defense also questioned if she dialed 911 while she was trapped in the room at Chocolate Factory or went to the police after. She testified that she didn’t.
While presenting the photo of Kelly that Sonja and her friend took the day they met the singer, Cannick asked, “This is a picture of your rapist, is that correct?” He later asked why she didn’t go home and tear it up, a question he withdrew after confusion from Judge Ann Donnelly.
Cannick asked her why she had signed the second NDA, to which she answered, “I just wanted to go home.” The attorney also questioned the validity of her claim that she was sexually assaulted.
“You told the government that you couldn’t say categorically that it was a sexual encounter, correct?” Cannick said. Sonja agreed that she said that.
During the redirect questioning, Cruz Melendez asked Sonja about her long-term silence about her experience.
“I didn’t think anybody would believe me,” she said. The prosecutor then asked her “if there was any doubt in her mind that you had fluid, wetness in your vaginal area?”
“I was sexually assaulted … It wasn’t something I invited,” she replied.