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Shawana wasn’t the first woman whose rape led po­lice to Kelly. Marie, a St. Louis woman, said he raped her in the back of his truck the year be­fore. And a woman in Vir­ginia the fol­low­ing year told po­lice she was raped, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion once again lead­ing po­lice to Kelly. Three women in three states in three con­sec­u­tive years.

Kelly main­tains his in­no­cence. He never raped any­one, he’s said, and these women lied to set­tle a grudge.

Yet a look at these women re­veals some­thing else. Kelly’s vic­tims were poor, black and vul­ner­a­ble, char­ac­ter­is­tics that make them more likely to be raped and less likely to be be­lieved. The in­ves­ti­ga­tions ini­tially ended with­out charges, the most com­mon out­come when a rape is re­ported. In­deed, less than one per­cent of rapes end with a rapist in jail.

“These are chal­leng­ing, but also sim­ple cases,” said An­gela Povi­laitis, an ex­pe­ri­enced sex crimes pros­e­cu­tor who at the same time led the pros­e­cu­tions of Kelly and dis­graced for­mer doc­tor Larry Nas­sar.

“It re­ally comes down to do you be­lieve his ver­sion or do you be­lieve the vic­tim’s ver­sion.”

Even­tu­ally Kelly did go to trial in Shawana’s case, in Septem­ber 2017. Af­ter six days of tes­ti­mony and a day of de­lib­er­a­tion, the jury found Kelly not guilty.

But that isn’t the whole story. And that isn’t the end of the story.

Falsely ac­cused or se­rial rapist?

What Povi­laitis knew and couldn’t tell the Kala­ma­zoo County jury was that it wasn’t just three women in three states in three years.

It was 11 women in four states over the course of three decades who told po­lice that they’d been raped with the en­su­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions lead­ing to Kelly.

So Kelly is ei­ther a man who has re­peat­edly been falsely ac­cused, or Kelly is a se­rial rapist.

The first known rape re­port po­lice con­nected to Kelly is from Mem­phis in 1985, when the driver of a red sports car pulled along­side a woman walk­ing down the street and of­fered a ride.

Once in­side the car, he hit her in the chest and pulled out a gun. He drove her to a lot be­hind a school and raped her twice. The woman picked Kelly out of a photo lineup, but by the time po­lice went for their war­rant, Kelly had moved to St. Louis and an ex­tra­di­tion ef­fort failed.

Two years later, in May 1987, a woman told St. Louis po­lice that a man raped her in her home. DNA ev­i­dence even­tu­ally linked the case to Kelly, but not un­til 2015.

In Novem­ber 1987, a woman told po­lice she was stand­ing near an in­ter­sec­tion in the rain when a man drove up and asked if she wanted a ride. She said yes, and he drove her to an al­ley, pulled out a knife and raped her.

He told po­lice they had sex in his car and after­ward she wanted money. He added that she had a knife and tried to cut him. At the po­lice sta­tion, she iden­ti­fied Kelly as her rapist. Prose­cu­tors didn’t charge Kelly. In 1989, two women told St. Louis po­lice they were raped in Sher­man Park. Po­lice con­nected the cases and tracked down Kelly. He told po­lice the women were pros­ti­tutes and he hadn’t paid them.

Prose­cu­tors didn’t charge Kelly in ei­ther case.

Months later, in Au­gust 1990, a woman told po­lice that she’d in­vited Kelly, whom she knew, into her home. He later choked her un­til she passed out, then raped her on the floor.

Kelly told po­lice the sex was con­sen­sual. He fell asleep after­ward, and when he woke up, he thought the woman had stolen from him.

“I got so mad, I hit her one time, and that’s what she got mad about,” Kelly told St. Louis po­lice dur­ing an in­ter­view. “She knew I had been down here for rape be­fore, and she was mad ‘cause I hit her. That’s why she called the po­lice and said I raped her. There was no rape.”

For the fourth time since Novem­ber 1987, St. Louis prose­cu­tors didn’t charge Kelly.

The pat­tern in St. Louis – re­ported rape, de­nial and no charges – would play out again.

A fight in the dark

Seven­teen years later, in March 2007, Marie stood in the rain on a St. Louis street. She’d missed her bus and was fac­ing a 45-minute wait for the next one when she turned to see Kelly get­ting out of a trac­tor trailer parked at a gas sta­tion.

He’d called out to her, and she walked over.

She was 36 and had been fight­ing drug ad­dic­tion for 19 years. She’d been clean for four months but re­cently re­lapsed. She was feel­ing down and was headed to see a friend.

Marie didn’t know Kelly, but he of­fered a ride, say­ing he’d take her to her friend’s house af­ter drop­ping off the trailer first.

A short while later, he pulled into a lot, within sight of a St. Louis po­lice sta­tion, and got out of the cab.

When Kelly got back in, he lunged at Marie.

She strug­gled to fight him off in the dark­ness. She kicked him. She bit him. Then, as he put pres­sure on her throat and she strug­gled to breathe, she stopped fight­ing. Maybe, she thought, if she stopped she’d live through the night.

She says he raped her on the bed in the back of the cab.

When he was done, he be­came a dif­fer­ent per­son. The vi­o­lent man was gone; he was back to the man who of­fered her a ride and refuge from the rain.

When he pulled up to her friend’s house, he handed her a piece of paper with his phone num­ber.

Af­ter he drove away, Marie called po­lice.

“He was telling me that he drives from state to state and that he pick girls that get high be­cause he knows that the po­lice won’t be­lieve them,” Marie said. “And all he’s got to do is say ‘They mad be­cause I didn’t pay them what they wanted.’ ...

“And he said they would be­lieve him over me. He said he had done it be­fore. He got away with it be­fore.”

In March 2007, for the fifth time since 1987, St. Louis prose­cu­tors de­cided not to charge Kelly.

‘I ran from here’

About a year later, in April 2008, Shawana was cel­e­brat­ing her 31st birth­day. She had a few drinks with her aunt and sis­ter, then walked to a friend’s house in Kala­ma­zoo, had a few more drinks and got high.

Shawana had been around drugs, in one way or an­other, most of her adult life, but she didn’t try crack un­til 2007. Shawana had talked with her sis­ter Talaya about re­hab. But the night of her birth­day she was still us­ing.

As Shawana and her friend walked to a liquor store, a car pulled up and the driver struck up a con­ver­sa­tion.

He was with some­one both Shawana and her friend knew. When he asked if he could party with them, they said yes.

Back at the house, Kelly asked Shawana if he could buy her a birth­day drink but said they’d have to swing by his hotel so he could grab his wal­let. She said yes.

About 15 min­utes later they were on U.S. 131, on the west­ern edge of Kala­ma­zoo driv­ing through the rain and head­ing to­ward the Red Roof Inn.

The car slowed and pulled over to the side of the high­way. He got out. Shawana thought some­thing was wrong with the car, but he came back with a knife and told her to get in the back.

She cried as he raped her and feared he might kill her, she later tes­ti­fied.

He’d rape her twice more, she said, driv­ing the car fur­ther along the high­way be­tween each rape. Fi­nally, he opened the door and told her to get out.

He drove off and she started run­ning, across the high­way, over the fence and up to the po­lice car.

Shawana wanted po­lice to find her rapist. She also wor­ried what might hap­pen once the of­fi­cer dis­cov­ered there was a mis­de­meanor war­rant for her ar­rest.

“Af­ter what I just went through, I didn’t want to go to jail,” she said. So she gave the of­fi­cer a false name. That wouldn’t mat­ter, how­ever, be­cause by the time a de­tec­tive was as­signed to the case, eight months later, Shawana was gone.

“I ran from here,” she said. “I had no idea he was not from here. I didn’t want to be nowhere near him.”

‘Let me start here’

In 2012, Spe­cial Agent Karen Fair­ley started her first case for the Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice look­ing for the wrong per­son.

Not only was this her first case in the AG’S Of­fice cold case sex­ual as­sault unit, this was her first sex­ual as­sault case. She’d re­tired from the De­troit Po­lice Depart­ment af­ter a ca­reer in­ves­ti­gat­ing fraud cases, in­ter­nal af­fairs com­plaints and em­ploy­ment mat­ters.

Fair­ley went through new train­ing. She learned mem­ory is com­pli­cated, even be­fore trauma.

In fact, rape and sex­ual vi­o­lence trauma can lead to the most frag­mented or for­got­ten mem­o­ries, said Jen­nifer Freyd, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Ore­gon.

Some­times the vic­tim will fo­cus on one thing to the ex­clu­sion of all oth­ers, maybe it’s the wall­pa­per or an odor or a weapon. Some­times a vic­tim can’t keep the mem­ory away and some­times, Freyd said, even if they want to re­mem­ber, they’re un­able to bring all or even pieces back.

And vic­tims don’t al­ways re­act to an as­sault in a way that makes sense. The neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal re­sponse might pre­vent them from scream­ing or fight­ing, said Tom Trem­blay, a for­mer sex crimes de­tec­tive.

Po­lice should view trauma as ev­i­dence of non-con­sent, said Trem­blay, who teaches the vic­tim-cen­tered ap­proach, a shift away from the tra­di­tional method of in­ves­ti­gat­ing sex­ual as­saults.

“The way that the po­lice have been trained to re­spond to all crimes is to re­spond quickly. Ask what hap­pened, what hap­pened next, what hap­pened af­ter that,” he said. “When a vic­tim strug­gles to re­call de­tails and se­quence of events, again, po­lice have looked at this sus­pi­ciously.”

This new ap­proach hasn’t been around long enough for mul­ti­ple stud­ies, but the early re­turns are pos­i­tive, said Re­becca Camp­bell, a Michi­gan State Univer­sity psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor.

“What we do know is that gen­er­ally that the more that you can help peo­ple al­le­vi­ate stress, al­le­vi­ate trauma, and can help them feel safe and se­cure, they’re more likely to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion,” she said.

Law en­force­ment’s poor treat­ment of vic­tims and mis­han­dling of rape in­ves­ti­ga­tions have been doc­u­mented in cities across the coun­try.

The cold case sex­ual as­sault unit was set up to be an an­ti­dote to the ills that weaken rape in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

As she be­gan her work with that unit, Fair­ley no­ticed a case among the dozens sent over by the State Po­lice.

“He had four dif­fer­ent (DNA) hits, four dif­fer­ent states in which he was named as a sus­pect,” she said. “So I’m like, what’s up with this? Let me start here.”

One of Fair­ley’s first stops was the friend Shawana had been with the night of the rape. In that in­ter­view, in Au­gust 2012, Fair­ley learned Shawana had lied about her name.

Still, find­ing Shawana proved dif­fi­cult.

Af­ter months, Fair­ley put the case aside. She tried again in Septem­ber 2013, go­ing to see Shawana’s mother. This time, she left with a lead.

Shawana was in jail in In­di­anapo­lis.

‘A good spirit’

Two months af­ter she met with Shawana, Fair­ley met with Marie, who was skep­ti­cal of the Michi­gan de­tec­tive.

Be­fore he dropped her off in 2007, Marie says Kelly told her that he had in­side con­nec­tions. She took this as a warn­ing should she ever re­port him to po­lice.

That’s why she didn’t trust the St. Louis de­tec­tive who came to see her when she was in drug treat­ment in 2010 af­ter DNA re­sults were re­turned from her rape kit.

Rape vic­tims of­ten have trust is­sues, said Thema Bryant-davis, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Pep­per­dine Univer­sity.

When they’re raped by a stranger, the is­sue be­comes “Not only do I have dif­fi­culty trust­ing in in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships, but trust­ing peo­ple in gen­eral,” she said.

But Fair­ley made Marie feel com­fort­able. She be­lieved Marie.

“Af­ter Ms. Karen came, she made me re­al­ize that if I didn’t speak up he was just go­ing to keep harm­ing peo­ple.”


As Fair­ley’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ued, so did the ev­i­dence to sug­gest that Kelly might be a se­rial rapist. Fair­ley and Povi­laitis had more than the cases be­fore Shawana, from 1985 to 1990. They had Marie’s case, a year af­ter Shawana, and two in­ves­ti­ga­tions af­ter Marie, in Vir­ginia in 2009 and Mem­phis in 2010.

Re­search sug­gests that rapists usu­ally have more than one vic­tim, a find­ing bol­stered as once-untested rape kits have been pro­cessed.

Cities like De­troit, New York City and Cleve­land all had large in­ven­to­ries of untested rape kits. In Mem­phis, where Kelly lived for years, more than 12,000 once-untested kits have been sent for pro­cess­ing.

Rachel Lovell, a Case West­ern Re­serve Univer­sity re­searcher, is work­ing with the Cuya­hoga County prose­cu­tors to look at Cleve­land’s back­log. She and other re­searchers found that a quar­ter of the de­fen­dants were linked via DNA to more than one untested rape kit in the back­log. A sim­i­lar trend was found in De­troit’s kits.

Anal­y­sis of these kits is also re­veal­ing that a rapist’s choice of tar­gets cen­ters on vul­ner­a­bil­ity, Lovell said.

“That vul­ner­a­bil­ity makes it much less likely to have suc­cess­ful in­ves­tiga­tive out­comes, suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­to­rial out­comes,” she said.

Kelly avoided pros­e­cu­tion on rape charges for decades, but that ended in

2014 when Povi­laitis, then an as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral, moved for­ward with charges for the rape of Shawana. Fair­ley went to in­ter­view Kelly in a Mem­phis jail. Kelly tried to con­vince Fair­ley that pros­ti­tutes or women with grudges had falsely re­ported him. He em­phat­i­cally de­nied that he raped Shawana or Marie or any­one.

“No, ma’am. No ma’m,” he told Fair­ley, later adding, “There was no rape.”

The trial

Kelly went on trial for the first time in 2017 in Kala­ma­zoo.

Years had passed be­tween Kelly’s ar­rest and trial be­cause the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense fought over what the jury could hear.

Eight women who’d re­ported rapes had agreed to tes­tify, and Povi­laitis wanted to call them all. Kelly’s at­tor­neys only wanted the jury to hear Shawana. The Michi­gan Court of Ap­peals twice over­ruled the trial judge’s rul­ings lim­it­ing the num­ber who could tes­tify.

“It strikes us as ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­prob­a­ble,” a three-judge panel wrote, “that eight un­re­lated women in four dif­fer­ent states would fab­ri­cate re­ports of sex­ual as­sault af­ter en­gag­ing in con­sen­sual sex with de­fen­dant.”

Ul­ti­mately Shawana, Marie and the woman in Vir­ginia tes­ti­fied.

Kelly faced five charges, in­clud­ing rape and kid­nap­ping, all con­nected to the in­ci­dent with Shawana.

Povi­laitis ar­gued the case was about the rapes of Shawana, Marie, the woman in Vir­ginia and the pat­tern they re­vealed. De­fense at­tor­ney Becket Jones ar­gued the case was about cred­i­bil­ity, pros­ti­tu­tion deals gone wrong and what hap­pened with Shawana, not with Marie or the woman in Vir­ginia.

Cen­tral to the de­fense strategy was Kelly’s de­scrip­tion of these woman as pros­ti­tutes and drug users, im­ply­ing that their in­ten­tions were ma­li­cious and their mem­o­ries were flawed.

Jones spent much of his time ask­ing ques­tions about the women’s in­con­sis­tent state­ments to po­lice. For ex­am­ple, Shawana, in the po­lice re­port, is said to have de­scribed Kelly’s weapon as a small, white fold­ing knife. But she told Fair­ley years later he had a large knife.

And Jones told the jury Fair­ley’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion was flawed from the start.

“So when you start your in­ves­ti­ga­tion with a vic­tim­based ap­proach, you’ve started your in­ves­ti­ga­tion with a bias,” he said in court. “What’s scary about that is that when you have a con­clu­sion al­ready set and you fit your facts to the con­clu­sion, in­no­cent peo­ple can be found guilty.” Jones called Kelly as a witness. Kelly an­swered ques­tions about his life. He also ex­plained that the women were in fact pros­ti­tutes who tried to rob him or who grew an­gry with him when the terms of the deal fell apart. He de­nied that he raped any­one. “You took my life away from me,” he said at one point to Fair­ley, who was sit­ting at the pros­e­cu­tion ta­ble. “I ain’t rape no­body. You know I ain’t rape no­body.”

The ver­dict

Povi­laitis and Jones gave their clos­ing ar­gu­ments on the sev­enth day.

Povi­laitis wanted the jury to see Kelly’s pat­tern. The way he ap­proached the three women and iso­lated them. The way he forced them to com­ply, the way his per­son­al­ity changed back af­ter the rape.

And she wanted them to un­der­stand why she felt Jones asked so many ques­tions about drugs and con­sis­tently used the phrase crack co­caine.

“This was an at­tempted at­tack to dis­par­age the vic­tims so that you wouldn’t care about them and that you wouldn’t be­lieve them.”

Jones asked the jury to con­sider Shawana as a pros­ti­tute kicked out of a car on the side of the road who re­al­izes not only is she with­out a ride, but she’s also with­out the money.

“None of us can re­ally imag­ine our­selves in that sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “All of us can make an at­tempt to imag­ine some­one who is frankly a hooker who has a crack co­caine prob­lem in that sit­u­a­tion.” The ju­rors reached their ver­dicts the next day. Povi­laitis sat at the pros­e­cu­tion ta­ble and didn’t move un­til the last not guilty was read.

Kelly started to cry and thanked the ju­rors as they Rape, Abuse & In­cest Na­tional Net­work, an anti-sex­ual as­sault non-profit, runs a 24/7 hot­line ac­ces­si­ble by phone at 800-656-4673 or on­line at https://hot­­line. You can find re­source cen­ters near you by vis­it­ing https://cen­

Re­sources na­tion­ally for sex­ual as­sault vic­tims

1in6 is a na­tional ad­vo­cacy and re­source or­ga­ni­za­tion for male sex­ual as­sault vic­tims. The or­ga­ni­za­tion runs an 24/7 on­line helpline chat, which can be found at walked out of the court­room.

“Thank, ya’ll,” he said. “Thank, ya’ll. Thank you. Thank you.”

‘He took my life’

To un­der­stand what hap­pened to Shawana re­quires un­der­stand­ing what trauma does to a per­son.

There are night­mares and flash­backs, dif­fi­culty sleep­ing or con­cen­trat­ing, trust is­sues and sui­ci­dal thoughts. These are usu­ally worst in the first weeks, when a per­son might with­draw from fam­ily or friends, but can re­turn years later if some­thing — like a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion — re­ac­ti­vates the trauma, said Camp­bell, the MSU re­searcher. And things can get worse. Shawana had been bub­bly and happy, ea­ger to do things. The in­ci­dent with Kelly changed her.

“He took my life,” she said at the trial, hold­ing back tears. “I just want to black it all out.”

Af­ter the trial, life got harder for Shawana. There was more drug use and less time with her fam­ily.

She saw her younger sis­ter Talaya less and less. Shawana was us­ing heroin and her body had started to waste away.

In mid-oc­to­ber 2017, Talaya had a party for her 4year-old son’s birth­day and her sis­ter at­tended. Shawana ar­rived late, then grabbed a bag of candy and tossed pieces around as the young chil­dren danced and laughed through the liv­ing room to Phar­rell’s “I’m Happy.” That hap­pi­ness wouldn’t last. In the early morn­ing hours of the Sun­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, Fair­ley’s phone rang with a call from Talaya.

Shawana was dead. She died at 40 years old of an over­dose at­trib­uted to ethanol, fen­tanyl and co­caine.

When Talaya talks about Shawana, there’s laugh­ter and tears.

“She’s a hero. She is,” Talaya said. “She could have crawled away and did what she did and died in the cor­ner some­where. But she chose to fight back. …

“And I ad­mire her for that. That and a lot more. She made me proud to be her lit­tle sis­ter.”

The end­ing

Ten weeks af­ter Kelly’s ac­quit­tal, Povi­laitis’ pros­e­cu­tion of Larry Nas­sar ended when he pleaded guilty to 10 sex­ual as­sault charges. Povi­laitis found her­self in the na­tional spot­light dur­ing Nas­sar’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ings and the year that fol­lowed.

She’s since left the Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice for a job with broader im­pact fight­ing sex­ual as­sault and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence statewide.

Povi­laitis still thinks about Shawana. It’s hard not to.

Fair­ley still in­ves­ti­gates cold case sex­ual as­saults and her first in­ves­ti­ga­tion is never far from her mind.

“This is the com­mon case that we ig­nore, okay?” she said. “These rapes hap­pen all the time. Guess what? Do we care? No, we don’t care.

“But these are the ones that we should be look­ing at.”

Marie still lives in St. Louis and has been sober go­ing on nine years.

“When you have been through a lot of stuff like I have been through, the rape was just one of the things that I went through,” she said. “I was al­ready dam­aged. And it just added on.”

To­day, she proudly pulls pho­to­graphs out of an en­ve­lope, show­ing off the smil­ing faces from a fam­ily va­ca­tion. This is her life now. Po­lice and prose­cu­tors in St. Louis de­clined to be in­ter­viewed, ei­ther about Kelly, his cases or about rape in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions in gen­eral.

Mem­phis, where Kelly spent much of his life, con­tin­ues to re­view re­sults from its once untested rape kits. Po­lice there de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest.

Prose­cu­tors in Mem­phis de­clined to be in­ter­viewed, but in an email said that at the end of 2018, 206 in­dict­ments have come from re­cent test­ing of the rape kit back­log and 38 more cases are pend­ing ac­tion by the grand jury.

“In­ves­ti­ga­tions into Kelly and his ac­tiv­i­ties in Mem­phis/shelby County are on­go­ing,” a spokesman said.

Kelly de­clined to be in­ter­viewed, but in a let­ter said he told the truth dur­ing the trial and said the Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice lied.

There were 11 known cases linked to Kelly when he went to trial in Michi­gan. The eleventh was from Mem­phis, in 2010, when a woman told po­lice that a man stuck a knife against her back and dragged her to a field where he raped her for an hour.

“He said that he was a truck driver,” she told a de­tec­tive. “… I think he’s rap­ing other women be­cause he asked me if he had raped me be­fore.”

DNA ev­i­dence iden­ti­fied Kelly as a sus­pect. He de­nied the rape.

“Kelly is pos­si­bly a se­rial rapist in Mem­phis and in St. Louis,” the de­tec­tive wrote in his re­port, the day be­fore prose­cu­tors de­clined to charge him. “Un­able to pro­ceed in any case in Mem­phis or St. Louis.”

Seven years later, af­ter trial and ac­quit­tal in Michi­gan, the case had been re­opened. On May 25, a Ten­nessee grand jury in­dicted him on rape and kid­nap­ping charges. Kelly, 61, is in jail in Mem­phis await­ing trial. Con­tact Matt Men­car­ini at (517) 267-1347 or mmen­car­[email protected] Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Mattmen­car­ini.


An ev­i­dence photo shows the sec­tion of U.S. 131 where prose­cu­tors say Shawana Hall ran across in 2008.


Shawana Hall re­ported her rape to Kala­ma­zoo po­lice in 2008.

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