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Copyright 2005 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

Chicago Sun-Times July 21, 2005 Thursday HEADLINE: Girl on Kelly video was 14, friend testifies; Hearing seeks to pin down time frame in child-porn case BYLINE: Abdon M. Pallasch BODY: The girl in the alleged R. Kelly sex video was only 14 years old when it was made, the girl's best friend testified Wednesday. "It was the summer after eighth grade," said the witness, who is now 21. She grew up in Oak Park near the girl from the video, and the two have been friends "since I was in the third grade," she said. Kelly, the 38-year-old R&B superstar now enjoying his second week at the top of the music charts with his album "TP.3 Reloaded," was charged three years ago with 14 counts of child pornography for allegedly videotaping himself engaging in various sex acts with the underage girl he referred to as his "Goddaughter" on his "TP2.com" album. No trial date has been set, as Kelly's lawyers and prosecutors wrestle over issues such as when the tape was made -- which factors into the age of the then-allegedly underage girl, who will be 21 in September. The girl's best friend became the first witness in the lead-up to the case. Wednesday's hearing was an attempt by Kelly's lawyers -- he had four in court with him -- to try to narrow the 51-month window during which prosecutors say the tape was made. The witness leaned forward, her hands clasped between her knees, wearing a white camisole and short, teased hair, and said she could tell her friend was 14 years old in the video in part because of the hairstyle sported by her friend. 'Could have been a little before' "It was kind of a mullet, short on the top, long in the back," she said. "I was probably like 14 when I got my hair cut like that." Her friend got the haircut about the same time, she testified. The witness added that it could have been earlier than the summer of 1999 that her friend appeared in the video. "It could have been a little before, 'cause we got that haircut before in the eighth grade," she said. Kelly, dressed in an olive green suit, his hair neatly braided, watched without expression as the 21-year-old testified. Though she did not mention it on the stand Wednesday, court papers indicate the witness spent time with her best friend and Kelly starting the summer after sixth grade, with the three hanging out at Hoops Gym, Kelly's Trax Studio and Kelly's former home in the 1000 block of West George, where the video allegedly was made in the basement hot tub room. The witness said her friend told her she was not the girl on the video. Prosecutors on Wednesday trimmed the 51-month window during which they say the video was made down to the 33 months between Jan. 1, 1998, and Nov. 1, 2000. That is still too big a window for R. Kelly to defend with alibis, his attorneys argued.

Judge Vincent Gaughan seemed to agree, appearing to threaten to throw out the case if prosecutors could not narrow the time frame. "Nobody wants to let a monster go free," Gaughan said. "But nobody wants to convict an innocent individual." Prosecutors warned Gaughan praised the two prosecutors on the case, Shauna Boliker and Robert Heilingoetter, but noted they were not the initial prosecutors; that seven of the initial 21 counts had been dismissed, and that a musician such as Kelly, who is frequently out of town touring, is entitled to a more reasonable time window to defend. "If this is the best you can do, I will make a ruling accordingly," Gaughan warned the prosecutors. Another possible clue to the tape's timing: A new-release music video show heard on the tape features "Let's have a Party Tonight" by the Backstreet Boys and "Too Much" by the Spice Girls, which were hits in late 1998/early 1999. An ad can also be heard for "The Money Store," which closed in 2000. Two other witnesses also testified Wednesday that the girl appeared to them to be 14 or 15. Gaughan continued the hearing to next week to give Kelly's main attorney, Ed Genson, time to put prosecutors' other witnesses on the stand. Those other friends and family of the girl have told prosecutors she appears to be 14 or 15 on the tape. One girl said she was part of an overnight party at Kelly's house on West George Street. GRAPHIC: As R&B superstar R. Kelly watches without expression, the 21-year-old witness testifies Wednesday that her best friend, allegedly the girl in the videotape, was 14 when it was recorded. sketch by.; Carol Renaud LOAD-DATE: August 19, 2005