The Kansas City man at the center of an alleged scheme to hide a sex tape showing R. Kelly in a threesome with a 14-year-old girl told a federal jury Friday that he only handed over a partial copy of the tape to Kelly’s associates at first because he “didn’t think they’d know the difference.”
Keith Murrell, 45, is a key witness for prosecutors, who are trying to prove that Kelly and his two co-defendants, Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown, conspired to buy back incriminating tapes and hide years of Kelly’s sexual misconduct.
Murrell’s testimony, which capped the second week of Kelly’s trial at the Dirksen US Courthouse, helped shore up key elements of the indictment. But he also contradicted another central witness, his friend Lisa Van Allen, on several important points, including why she sent him the tape, the number of sexual encounters it depicted, and whether money was the motivating factor for returning it to Kelly.
Murrell walked into court wearing a blue suit and dark sunglasses. He remained somber-faced and seemed slightly nervous, a contrast with his friend and previous witness, Charles Freeman, who was laid-back and smiling on the stand.
Testifying in a Missouri drawl, Murrell said he met Kelly in the mid-1990s when he was in an R&B group named K-OS. After impressing Kelly with a song they sang into his voicemail, they were flown to Chicago to record with Kelly’s label in 1997, he said.
It was at that time Murrell said he met Van Allen, a romantic partner of Kelly’s who testified this week that she participated in threesomes with Kelly and his then-underage goddaughter, which Kelly recorded on video.
Murrell said he eventually moved back to Kansas City in the early 2000s. While he was living there, Van Allen sent him a videotape to “hold” for her, which he said he watched right away. “It was Lisa, Rob and another girl having sex,” he tested.
Murrell said he showed the video to several friends—including Freeman—but never gave it to anyone else. He was stunned in 2007, he said, when McDavid called him out of the blue and said they knew he had a tape.
Brown later called him and said to bring it to Chicago, but before he went, Murrell made a copy of about an 8-to-10-minute “snippet” of the tape to bring. “I didn’t think they’d know the difference,” he tested.
After flying to Chicago with the copy of the tape, he met at a downtown hotel with Brown and McDavid, where he failed a polygraph test when asked if he’d made any copies. Murrell said McDavid gave him $20,000 in cash and told him to go back to Kansas City and get the original tape, and if he did so he’d get a total reward of $100,000. He said McDavid let him know that “they weren’t playing.”
Murrell later went back to Chicago with the original tape, he said. When he arrived, Brown told him he had “the golden egg, or something like that,” Murrell testified. He handed the tape to McDavid, who arranged for him to take a second lie detector test.
After he passed, McDavid “told me ‘Thank you’ and he shook my hand and gave me a hug. And then he gave me the money too.” Murrell says it was a bag with $80,000 in cash.
In her testimony Thursday, Van Allen sobbed when she described how McDavid threatened her after she had failed a polygraph test about the tape, telling her “they should have murked me from the beginning” — that is, they should have killed her.
Murrell said that Van Allen never told him about that alleged threat. He also was asked on cross-examination whether McDavid had ever threatened him. After initially saying no, Murrell said McDavid drew his attention to a large member of Kelly’s security team who was also in the room.
“He said if I didn’t come back, this guy right here would come see me,” Murrell said.
Murrell acknowledged on cross-examination that he asked Van Allen to send him the tape because he wanted to see it, and that she never told him there was anything improper or illegal on it.
When he viewed it, it didn’t look like anything criminal, he said. And there was only one sexual encounter on the tape, Murrell said — whereas Van Allen has tested there were three separate scenes, two of which involved just Kelly and his young goddaughter.
Earlier Friday, Van Allen’s continued cross-examination got off to an extraordinarily contentious start. Within 15 minutes, the exchange with Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean had grown so argumentative and circular that the judge intervened, and within about 20 minutes the witness had broken down in tears.
Van Allen, 42, acknowledged at the start she was “exhausted” and did not want to come to court Friday after spending about five hours on the stand the day before.
Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean repeatedly noted that Van Allen had for years said she first met Kelly when she was 17, but at this trial acknowledged she was 18. Authorities had informed her that the music video shoot where they met was filmed after her 18th birthday.
Bonjean showed increasing exasperation with Van Allen’s failure to nail down a timeline for when exactly she met Kelly and how old she was at the time. At one point, as Van Allen again said she was confused by a question, Bonjean threw her hands up in the air and looked toward the ceiling, letting out a heavy sigh.
“Why would I do all that math when I’m trying to tell the truth?” Van Allen said, growing frustrated. “… When I tested against him it wasn’t for me. It was about Jane.”
Bonjean noted that Jane was underage when Van Allen admittedly had sexual contact with her and Kelly: “You’re here testifying for her? This is the person you sexually abused?”
Van Allen’s bottom lip began to quiver. She reached for a box of tissues and started dabbing at her eyes. Then she broke down sobbing.
“I’m not proud of that. I don’t know what woman would be proud of that,” she said through tears. “But I am here to admit to my wrongdoings and to hold him accountable for what he’s done, so you can sit here and try to make me the bad guy all you want.”
As Van Allen sobbed for several uncomfortable minutes, Bonjean stood at the lectern with her arms crossed. “Let me know when you have composed yourself,” she said.
Bonjean also questioned Van Allen about how many threesomes she had with Kelly and where and when and why. She showed Van Allen a statement she made to authorities in 2019, in which she said she participated in the threesomes because she felt bad that Kelly had been molested when he was young.
With that, jurors have learned about that traumatic part of Kelly’s history without Kelly needing to take the stand.
Van Allen said she reached out to Kelly for his help in getting the incriminating video back, but then Kelly volunteered to give her money if she could go recover it. That isn’t logical, Bonjean implied, saying: “This doesn’t make sense unless it was all about money, Ms. Van Allen.”
“It makes sense to not want a sex tape out there. Especially with a minor,” Van Allen said.
After a little more than two hours of questioning, Bonjean told the judge she had “nothing further.”
“Good,” Van Allen said loudly into the microphone, prompting Bonjean to whirl around and say, “Oooh!”
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Van Allen gave her a big smile.
On redirect examination, Assistant US Attorney Jason Julien read for jurors segments of Van Allen’s testimony from Kelly’s 2008 trial, to show that her story had remained consistent and that she was not motivated by publicity. Van Allen, at that point, did not have a book deal, and had not been on television.
The prosecutor’s final questions tried to combat defense attorneys’ insinuations that Van Allen’s displays of emotions were just a phony show for jurors.
“Were your emotions yesterday fake?” Julien asked.
“No,” Van Allen responded.