Warning: The following story contains graphic witness testimony.
Witnesses continue to take the stand in the federal trial of disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, accusing the 54-year-old of sexual assault, and more.
Kelly’s attorney on Thursday (September 9), tried to discredit a witness identified only as Sonja, by arguing she became unconscious because of the Chinese food she ate.
According to Vulture, Deveraux L. Cannick, one of the singer’s defense lawyers, asked Sonja on the stand if she had ingested MSG –– a flavor enhancer that has long been linked to Chinese food but is also naturally occurring in other foods like cheese and tomatoes –– in an attempt to attribute her account of the assault on the Chinese food she'd been given after days of being locked in a room. Myths about MSG causing headaches and other bodily ailments swirled for years, and are considered racist. The myths about MSG have also been debunked by researchers.
"I Was Scared"
Sonja testified that she met the singer at a mall in Salt Lake City, Utah when she was 21 years old and interning at a local radio station. At the time, Sonja said she believed a “first huge celebrity interview” with Kelly would “kick-start” her career.
Sonja was invited to the singer’s Chicago studio to interview him after he turned down a phone interview or coming down to the station where she worked. She told the court his associates planned and booked the trip to Chicago and asked if she needed condoms after she landed.
“I’m not here for that,” Sonja recalled saying.
Sonja said upon her arrival at the studio, several men asked for her ID, phone, and the addresses of the first five people in her call history. She was led into a room, given a list of “rules,” asked to sign an NDA and locked inside for days.“I tried to open the door,” she said. “Come to find out, it was locked from the outside.”
“I was scared, for one. I was ashamed,” Sonja recalled, adding that she had to ask permission and be escorted to the restroom.
On what Sonja believes to be the third or fourth day, her request for food was finally “cleared.” She was given a bag with “a green tray” and a cup of soda. She ate “just a couple bites, a couple sips” when she experienced a fog come over her.
“I got extremely just, full … felt extremely full and tired. I felt something coming on like, okay, I’m done eating,” she said.
“The next thing I remember [is] waking up to some commotion in the room,” Sonja recalled, noting that she looked across the room and saw Kelly “pulling up his pants in the corner.”
“There was some wet stuff between my legs and on my thighs,” she told the courtroom. The underwear she had been wearing were on the sofa in the room. Sonja testified that she did not remove her underwear, nor had she consented to have sexual contact with Kelly.
“It felt like something had been inside of me,” she said. “I believed I was touched sexually.”
Prosecutors objected to the defense’s line of questioning –– which has long been considered racist. The judge reportedly asked Sonja, "Have you ever had MSG?" to which she replied, "I don't know."
Kelly is facing multiple charges and is accused of running an interstate criminal enterprise for the purposes of transporting women and girls for sex, in violation of the Mann Act. If convicted, the singer could face 10 years to life in prison.
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.
RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673.
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