It was a legal battle that captivated American audiences and fueled vicious debate, and it all started with a tape.
R&B star R. Kelly was arrested on child pornography charges in 2002 after an anonymous source leaked a sex tape to the media that appeared to show Kelly having sex with an underage girl. During the trial, friends and family of Kelly and his alleged victim were called to the stand to positively identify either party in the video, an act that proved to be a difficult decision for some, as explained in Lifetime’s controversial new Kelly documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Raven Gengler is one of many who claimed to recognize Kelly and his victim in the sex tape. She and the girl went to the same junior high school together and played on the same basketball team, the Los Angeles Times reports.
She took the stand to testify during Kelly’s trial, but speaking out in court wasn’t an easy thing to do, she explained during the fourth installment of Lifetime’s six-part docu-series.
“I just remember being terrified when I was called to the witness stand,” Gengler said. “Here’s this person who I was great friends with, who’s a great person, and all this is happening to her now. And I was trying to help the case by giving any specific details that I thought might really, you know, seal the deal and make sure that he was found guilty.”
“They played the tape because they wanted it to be kind of fresh in my memory. And I remember, once again, just kind of getting maybe halfway through the whole tape and just breaking down and crying,” she said.
When Gengler took the stand in 2002, she was a recent graduate from Loyola University and it had been eight years since she’d spoken to the girl she believed to be in the video, according to the Los Angeles Times. While she admitted in court to having never seen Kelly and his alleged victim behave in any “inappropriate way,” she felt confident in saying that it was “absolutely” her former friend on tape, the outlet reports.
Nearly 20 years later, Gengler told Lifetime that she was originally “torn” about whether or not she should testify at all.
“Being a mom now, you can’t fathom your child being in that situation,” Gengler said. “I would do anything to protect my child and to keep my child safe.”
“For all I know, she wanted to just live a normal life,” she said. “And I felt really torn because, you know, my faith and my morals told me I needed to come forward because what he did was wrong. And that’s all I knew, and I was trying to, you know, keep him from doing it ever again.”
In regards to Kelly, Gengler said, “I just want to know why, at the end of the day, he can sleep at night, knowing that he’s affecting these innocent young girls. Girls that are still tying to figure out themselves, still trying to figure out relationships, and taking full advantage of that.”
“I will never understand that,” she said. “It’s sickening.”
Kelly’s defense accused Gengler in court of lying about whether or not she had seen the tape, and accused her of being “pressured” to say she had in order to help build the prosecution’s case, according to the Los Angeles Times. Prosecutors responded by stating that Gengler had only recognized the voices of Kelly and her former friend after watching the video again in the state attorney’s office.
Gengler was not the only one to positively identify Kelly’s victim. Her former basketball coach Jacques Conway also appeared in Lifetime’s documentary, and said of the victim, “I picked her out as soon as I saw the video.”
Stephanie “Sparkle” Edward, a singer who worked with Kelly for years, also positively identified the girl in the video as the niece she'd introduced to Kelly years earlier. Kelly’s team previously offered her “upwards of six figures” to keep quiet, but she refused, she said during the Lifetime doc. She also theorized that Kelly paid her family not to speak out against him, and suggested that her relatives — including her brother-in-law and the victim’s father — continued to have a relationship with Kelly amid the sexual misconduct claims.
Kelly continuously denied being the man in the tape - at one point his attorney reportedly attempted to shift the blame onto his younger brother, Carey Kelly - and he was acquitted on all charges in 2008. In recent years, he has continued to deny engaging in any sexual misconduct with various women as the accusations – and lawsuits – pile up.
[Photo: Lifetime/“Surviving R. Kelly”]
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