CHICAGO — “Sweetie, I’m not trying to get any money for this!”
“I’m not your sweetie!”
An exchange between two ex-lovers? No — it was part of a shouting match during a contentious cross-examination between R. Kelly’s defense attorney Ed Genson and the prosecution’s star witness, Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards. An R&B singer who was once Kelly’s protégé, Sparkle testified for more than an hour and a half Thursday afternoon during Kelly’s child-pornography trial, describing how she introduced her niece to Kelly, how she later came to discover that the sex tape existed, and how that drove her family apart.
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At times sniffling and dabbing her eyes and her nose with a tissue, Sparkle appeared to be on the verge of tears but remained composed, although she also became defiant when Genson had his turn and accused the R&B singer of trying to take revenge against Kelly for terminating her record-label contract.
Sparkle, wearing a touch of silver glitter on her face, testified that in December 2001, she got a phone call from an attorney telling her that a relative of hers was on a sex tape she needed to see, at which point an associate of the attorney’s came to her home and played her the tape. When she watched the recording, she said, she recognized her niece
“You know your blood,” Sparkle said. “She’s my niece. You just know your family. There’s no denying it. … She was my heart.”
Sparkle testified that she then called a family meeting so her other relatives could see the tape for themselves. (Genson tripped her up on cross, when she said she was never in possession of the tape, even though her brother and his ex-wife had testified that she was.) However, her sister Valerie didn’t want to do anything about the tape, and the family became divided.
“We were thick as thieves,” Sparkle said of the family’s closeness before the meeting. “You couldn’t break the chain with us. We were tight, tight, tight.” But after the meeting, “There was one side and another side,” she said. The girl’s mother — Sparkle’s sister — didn’t want to see the tape and didn’t want to talk about it, she said.
Though she hadn’t witnessed anything between Kelly and her niece that could be considered inappropriate, Sparkle said she saw hints of things that she didn’t want to acknowledge at the time, “little hints of something, little touches,” that in hindsight concerned her. She said she regretted bringing her niece to Kelly’s studio and later his home — “my mistake,” Sparkle said.
Genson accused Sparkle of being bitter and characterized the end of her working relationship with Kelly as a firing. Sparkle corrected him and said she had asked to be released from her contract so she could work with other people, such as Steve Huff, Teddy Riley, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. She said there was no bitterness between her and Kelly over the split: “He was my homeboy. We were still cool.” Still, she admitted, she hadn’t had the same level of success on her sophomore album with Motown as she did with her Kelly-produced debut, and she hadn’t received any royalties from Kelly.
Genson suggested that Sparkle next tried to conspire with former Kelly manager Barry Hankerson “about doing something bad to Robert.”
“No,” she said. “Of course not. We talked about business. That’s it.”
Sparkle said that she had discussions with Hankerson, who was also Aaliyah’s uncle, about signing to his Blackground record label about two weeks before Aaliyah’s death in 2001, but that discussions fell apart. She pointed out that during this time period, she ran into Kelly at a family bowling event, and he gave her his number and invited her to come down to the studio, to illustrate that there was no bad blood between them, however much Genson tried to imply it.
“You didn’t express anger?” he asked.
“Anger? No,” she said. “Never. We were very cordial.”
“You were still cool with Robert?”
“I thought we were,” she said.
Things heated up when Genson accused her of being in on a scheme to either use the tape to extort Kelly or to make money by mass-producing it. “You have no idea whether this was put together by someone trying to get money from Robert, do you?” he asked.
“Sir, it’s Robert and [my niece] on the tape,” she said. “I know my family. I know them. Trust me.”
Genson then made a comment about the girl on the tape looking like a willing participant. “He made her do [those sexual acts],” she said. “She’s like a robot.” Genson pointed out that the girl is seen receiving money on the tape. “Like she’s a prostitute!” Sparkle said in disgust. “She’s doing exactly what he told her to do.”
Sparkle wasn’t the only witness to get emotional on the stand Thursday. The mother of another friend of the alleged girl on the tape cried when she talked about seeing the tape for the first time and recognizing her daughter’s friend, saying she was “100 percent certain” it was her by her face, her hairstyle and her voice. (Several other people have also identified the girl and Kelly on the tape during testimony.)
“I watched a few seconds of it, and I refused to watch the rest,” Adra Gengler testified. “I wanted this to go away. It’s very upsetting. It’s very upsetting to my family. It’s disgusting. Who wouldn’t be [disgusted]? The girl I knew was always bubbly, but she seems like a robot in that video. It’s so very sad.”