Every day, two young women waited for R. Kelly.
They waited in the morning outside the courthouse to see him make his entrance. They then went and got the equivalent of a backstage pass, so they could be spectators inside the courtroom, in the back rows allotted for the public. During the lunch break, they ran over to nearby Douglas Park to see him go to his tour bus for a private meal, away from prying eyes.
At the end of the day, they tried to run out of the building before he did, so they could have a final goodbye. They shouted, "I love you!" and he smiled and waved back. And they cussed out any reporter they thought had done Kelly wrong, on his behalf. One of them commuted 40 miles (by train and then by bus) for this. The other skipped school and left her 2-year-old son with her mother. These young women — 18-year-old Jerhonda Johnson and 23-year-old Keyonia Jones — are the superfans. They are the most unwavering in their dedication to the star, even though he stood accused of taking advantage of a girl not much different from themselves.
So when the verdict came down on Friday, Johnson and Jones felt like they were vindicated too.
"From the beginning, I thought he was innocent," Jones said. "I never had any doubt they would find him not guilty. And when they read the verdict, I wanted to scream, but I didn't. I had to control my happiness until I got outside."
"Even though my eyes were watering, I didn't let the tears fall down," Johnson said. "They did after a little bit."
Jones is a criminal-justice student at Harold Washington College, and though her next semester started while the trial was in progress, she decided being in Kelly's courtroom was a better classroom than her school could have provided. "It was my first real trial that I saw that wasn't on television or scripted," she said. "I was like, 'Oh, it's like this.' It helped a lot for my major, and it made me think about going to law school."
So even though Jones is such a dedicated fan that she named her 2-year-old son Robert (and plans to name any future ones Sylvester and then Kelly, to flesh out his full name), she tried to put herself into the mindset of the jury and consider all the evidence. "Going into it, I felt he was innocent," she said. "But then I thought, 'Lemme put aside R. Kelly and just listen to what they got to say.' " With as open a mind as she could muster, Jones watched the tape. She looked for the mole on his back. She listened to Sparkle testify. But then Jones concluded, "All she wanted was money. And all the other ladies [such as witness Lisa Van Allen wanted money."
"The state had some bad witnesses," Johnson said. "They didn't have any of her immediate family, so I was like, 'They didn't prove the case.' "
The jury might have thought it was Kelly on the tape, but these two were not convinced. "I say it wasn't him," Johnson said. "It wasn't R. Kelly at all. In 1998, 1999, he did not look like that. Yeah, he was bald, he had a nice body, but he did not have a gut, and he had one on the tape. He had a six-pack and everything back then. He was sexy. I mean, he still is, but the man on the tape was so different."
And though these young women would kill for Kelly to talk to them, they didn't want him to do it from the witness stand. "I thought it would be the dumbest thing for him to do, to testify," Jones said. "Because then they'd be able to use his past against him, and they would probably convict him."
By "his past," is Jones referring to the other underage girls who previously sued him? "Yes, and the whole thing about him supposedly marrying Aaliyah when she was underage," Jones said. She doesn't believe the marriage happened — you could show her the marriage license, and she still wouldn't believe it. You could have it on tape, so to speak, and she still would be his biggest fan, as would her friend.
"There is nothing that he could ever do to make me doubt him," Jones said. "Nothing."
"They can't call him a pedophile anymore," Johnson said. "They can't say he likes little girls. They don't have proof of that. Because he's innocent now. He's free."