After more than a month of witness testimony from the prosecutorial team during the federal sex trafficking trial against disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, it was time for the defense to petition the court on Monday.
As Buzzfeed News reports, the first witness to take the stand in defense of the entertainer was Kelly’s former bodyguard, longtime friend and former Chicago police officer Larry Hood. Hood initially claimed that he had “never seen the singer with underage girls,” but as his testimony continued, he later admitted to “seeing Aaliyah and some of her ‘little friends’” when she was around 12 or 13 years old.
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He testified that he met her at the same time as Kelly, and when asked whether she was 12 or 13 at that time, he said that was true. “Yeah, approximately,” he said. “She was a young lady, yes.”
Hood appeared to grow sheepish when questioned by prosecutors on whether he was aware Kelly had married Aaliyah when she was 15, initially saying he didn’t understand the question before replying that he “wasn’t there” when the ceremony took place. When pushed on whether he had known of the marriage’s existence, he said he became aware “later in life.”
He was also asked about Aaliyah’s 1994 album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which was produced by Kelly. The title song, as prosecutors described to the witness, is about a young girl attempting to seduce an older man in spite of their age difference. When asked whether it was true that Aaliyah was about 14 when she recorded it, Hood replied in a small voice, “Approximately, yes.”
Hood began working for Kelly in 1991 and became a police officer three years later. He would go on to work with the singer throughout the mid-’90s and again in the early 2000s. His time with Kelly ceased in 2004 and in 2007; he left Chicago PD “after pleading guilty to felony forgery for the use of fake $100 bills,” though he initially told the prosecutors that he left “in good standing” during cross-examination.
Additionally, Hood also testified that he had never seen anyone else inside Kelly’s Chicago apartment other than himself and the singer but later acknowledged that he knew “Angela,” a witness who previously testified against Kelly on day 15 of the trial, where she claimed she saw Kelly and Aaliyah engaging in “a sexual act.” Hood referred to the witness as “one of Aaliyah’s little friends, one of her hype girls.”
Hood’s confirmation of knowing Angela was especially damning in large part due to her previous claim that Hood was present in the apartment—in the very next room, to be exact—the night she and Kelly first had sex in 1991 when she was around 14 or 15. Despite those claims, Hood insisted he was never “aware of any wrongdoing” at the hands of the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer, adding: “As a police officer, I would have to take action against that.”
Later on Monday, the defense called a second witness to the stand, Dhanai “Da-Ni” Ramanan, an aspiring rapper turned shoe designer who had been a longtime fan of Kelly’s. In his testimony, Ramanan said he met Kelly at a mall in Albuquerque, N.M. and later became a part of the singer’s entourage for about 15 years, ending in 2019. However, despite referring to Kelly as a “mentor” and close friend, upon cross-examination, Ramanan could not recall any tours he accompanied the singer on over the years, neither could he identify himself in several photos of Kelly’s entourage.
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Despite spending so much time with Kelly, he was not on the singer’s payroll, and he also did not have a day job. When asked what his role was in Kelly’s circle, he replied, “to observe and to learn and to become.” He never wound up putting out an album and is now “working on a line of shoes,” he said. Despite painting himself as a member of Kelly’s inner circle, Ramanan’s name has never previously come up in testimony, a stark contrast to the many employees and associates of the singer who have repeatedly been mentioned throughout the trial.
According to BBC News, Kelly’s lawyers are expected to call a total of six witnesses to the stand, including an accountant, an investigator and a friend of Jerhonda Pace—the first woman to testify against R. Kelly. As previously reported by The Root, Kelly himself is not slated to testify.
R. Kelly is currently charged with 22 federal counts across New York, Illinois and Minnesota including charges of sex crimes, human trafficking, child pornography, racketeering, obstruction of justice, kidnapping and forced labor. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.