R. Kelly and Aaliyah wore “matching jogging suits,” both with one leg rolled up to the knee, during their secret marriage in 1994 inside a hotel suite, according to a minister who said he officiated their wedding and testified in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday.
“I didn’t think it was anyone special and I didn’t understand it at all,” Nathan Edmond, 73, told jurors about the wedding on Aug. 31, 1994.
He admitted that he did not know about either of the successful R&B artists—and simply did the wedding as a favor for a mutual friend.
The controversial marriage—which occurred when Aaliyah was just 15—is a key event in the sex-crimes case against the disgraced singer. Among other things, prosecutors allege that Kelly bribed an Illinois government employee in 1994 with $500 to obtain a fake welfare ID after finding out the teenager was pregnant.
Two days after the marriage, the singer allegedly sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl after one of his concerts in Miami. The accuser, who identified herself in court as Addie, told jurors she went to the concert hopes of seeing Aayliah—and was disappointed when she did not headline the concert.
Edmond, who testified via video link on Wednesday, was the 22nd person to take the stand the prosecution in Kelly’s trial. Kelly, 54, is charged with racketeering based on kidnapping, sexual exploitation of children, and forced labor, and violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits the transport of people across state lines for sex.
The singer has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of wrongdoing, and his legal team has argued, not incorrectly, that Aaliyah cannot speak about the marriage or allegations that she was pregnant. The beloved singer died in a plane crash soon after it took off from the Bahamas alongside eight other passengers two decades ago, when she was 22.
Other witnesses, however, have provided insight into the relationship between Kelly and “Princess of R&B,” which they say began when she was an early teenager.
Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former tour manager, previously testified that Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah began soon after the singer took the young artist under his wing in the early 1990s. Kelly helped Aaliyah cultivate her sound, Smith said, and helped produced her debut album, the disturbingly titled “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” in May 1994.
“They were more than friends from the very beginning,” Smith said of the relationship, which he said began when Aaliyah was in her early teens. “I just thought they were too playful.”
Forced to testify and granted immunity, Smith told jurors on Friday that in Aug. 1994, he flew with Kelly from an Orlando show to Chicago after the singer revealed that Aaliyah was in “trouble, man.”
On the plane ride immediately after the show, Smith said, Kelly was “concerned” because he was worried about going to jail if the teenage singer was indeed pregnant. Smith insisted on Monday he never believed that Aaliyah was actually pregnant.
Once back in Chicago, Smith said, he helped Kelly obtain a fake welfare card for Aaliyah so the pair could obtain a marriage license. The fake identification, which did not have a birth date on it, was one of two cards Smith said he helped the singers illegally obtain.
Keith Williams, who identified himself as Kelly’s longtime friend, told jurors on Wednesday that around the same time, Kelly and Smith went to his mortgage office asking for the name of a minister.
“[Kelly] indicated that...he was going to get married” to Aaliyah, Williams said, adding that they did provide Edmond’s name—who ultimately accepted the job.
On Wednesday, Edmond said that he was contacted to perform the marriage “not too long” after he got ordained. Prior to the wedding, he said that he had never met Kelly or Aaliyah—and did not know who they were.
He said that once he got the suite of the Sheraton hotel in a Chicago suburb, he noticed at least three other men in the room, which had a private bedroom and a living room area. Before the wedding, he said that a man approached him with the marriage license and an NDA. He admitted to jurors that the NDA “made me kind chuckle.”
“It wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on,” Edmond said, adding that he told the man the non-disclosure agreement “should have been a lot more airtight than that.” Eventually, he said, he told the presumed Kelly associate that he would “give him my word that I wouldn’t talk about [the wedding].”
The marriage certificate, which was shown to jurors last week, names Edmund as the “elder” who officiated Kelly and Aaliyah’s wedding. The certificate falsely stated that Aaliyah was 18—and thus of legal age. The “Bump N’ Grind” artist was 27. The Cook County Clerk marriage application, certification, and license stated that the pair got married on Aug. 31, 1994, in Rosemont, Illinois.
Edmond said that after he signed the documents, “the door opened and out stepped, I guess, Aaliyah and Mr. Kelly.”
“They both had on matching jogging outfits,” he said, noting that both had “one leg of the jogging suit up to the knee.” “You couldn’t see [Aayliah’s] whole face because her hair was covering half of her face.”
During the ceremony, which lasted “about ten minutes or less,” Edmond said, Kelly and Aaliyah exchanged vows and kissed each other.
“I think they walked back into the room” after it was over,” Edmond said, adding that someone in the room tried to offer him “25 or 50 dollars or something” for the ceremony, but he didn’t take the money.
Smith told jurors that about an hour after the marriage took place, he and Kelly went back to the airport to catch a flight to continue the singer’s tour. In Feb. 1996, Aaliyah’s marriage to Kelly was annulled by her parents.
“It shouldn’t have happened. It was wrong,” Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former tour manager, testified about the marriage. “I shouldn’t be talking about Aaliyah, she’s not here.”