In 2008, the Cook County jury on the case deliberated for 7½ hours before finding the R&B star, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, not guilty on all 14 counts. Upon hearing the verdict, “R. Kelly looked relieved,” said an onlooker at the time.
Prosecutors had claimed that Kelly was with a girl as young as 13 in a graphic video that was mailed to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. Both Kelly and the alleged victim denied they were the ones on the tape. Neither of them testified during the month-long trial.
Kelly did not speak to the media after the trial but was seen hugging fans outside the courtroom.
“R. Kelly was found not guilty because they had the best jury that Cook County could produce,” said the music star’s attorney, Sam Adam Jr. “R. Kelly got his name back.”
Cook County State’s Attorney General, Richard Devine, said, “As we must, we accept the verdict of the jury in this case. This prosecution is one we have no reservations about.”
A report from BuzzFeed News released in July 2017 alleged that R. Kelly has kept at least six women in his Chicago and Georgia properties who allegedly fulfill his desires and are punished if they break any of his “rules.” Amid these allegations — which have never led to formal charges — women’s rights organization Time’s Up along with stars like Ava DuVernay and John Legend have called for a boycott of his music with #MuteRKelly.
Lifetime’s six-part Surviving R. Kelly documentary — which aired from Thursday, Jan. 3 through Saturday, Jan. 5 — features wide-ranging interviews with R. Kelly’s family members, former friends and colleagues. Most notably, it also gives a voice to the women who claim that for decades the hit-making singer and producer used his power and influence to sexually and physically abuse women and young girls.
Representatives for R. Kelly said “no comment” to PEOPLE’s request for a response to the allegations made in Surviving R. Kelly and interviews with alleged victims in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands now. According to TMZ, Kelly’s lawyer Brian Nix has threatened to sue Lifetime network if it airs the documentary.
The documentary’s first episode, which aired Thursday, includes an emotional interview with former backup singer Jovante Cunningham, who met R. Kelly at age 14 and claims she bore direct witness to his sexual encounters with underaged girls in the ’90s, including his one-time protégée Aaliyah Haughton.
RELATED VIDEO: John Legend Speaks Out Against R. Kelly in New Documentary About Alleged Abuse
During her interview, Cunningham breaks down recalling when she claims to have discovered her boss R. Kelly, then 27, and Aaliyah, then age 15, had a sexual relationship.
“We were out on the road with Aaliyah,” she says. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces. When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping.”
For more powerful stories from alleged victims of R. Kelly, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.
“So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing,” Cunningham continues. “When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”
Asked what she saw, Cunningham responds: “Things that an adult should not be doing with a child.” She adds, “I can’t stress to you how people are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago.”
• Reporting by TIFFANY McGEE
If you or someone you know think they are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now for anonymous, confidential help, available 24/7.