R&B star R. Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for using his stardom to subject young fans, some just children, to systematic sexual abuse.
The 55-year-old singer-songwriter was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking last year in a trial that gave a voice to accusers who once wondered if their stories were being ignored because they were black women.
US District Judge Ann Donnelly imposed the sentence after hearing from several survivors who attested to how Kelly’s exploitation affected their lives.
Through tears and anger, R. Kelly’s accusers told the court Wednesday that he had taken advantage of them and misled his fans as the fallen R&B star listened with lowered eyes.
“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I’d die because of how bad you made me feel,” one woman told the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning singer.
Last fall, a federal court jury in Brooklyn found Kelly, 55, guilty of extortion and other charges in a trial that was seen as a key moment in the #MeToo movement.
Outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct with young women and children was fueled in part by widely viewed docuseries. Surviving R. Kellythat gave a voice to whistleblowers who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.
Kelly manipulated millions of fans into believing he was someone other than the man the jury saw, another accuser said.
The victims “have sought to be heard and recognized,” he said. “We are no longer the predated individuals that we once were.”
A third woman, sobbing and sobbing as she spoke, said Kelly’s conviction restored her faith in the legal system.
“I lost hope once,” he said, addressing the court and prosecutors, “but my faith was restored.”
The woman said Kelly victimized her after going to a concert when she was 17 years old.
“I was scared, I was naive and I didn’t know how to handle the situation,” she said, so she didn’t speak at the time.
“Silence,” he said, “is a very lonely place.”
Kelly kept her hands folded and looked down as she listened.
He did not address the court.
The defense argued for 10 years or less
Prosecutors had sought a minimum sentence of 25 years, while the defense said a sentence of 10 years or less was all he deserved.
Kelly’s lawyers argued in court papers that she should be given a break in part because she “experienced a traumatic childhood that involved prolonged and severe childhood sexual abuse, poverty and violence.”
They added: “His victimization continued into adulthood where, due to his literacy deficiencies, the defendant has been repeatedly financially defrauded and abused, often by the people he paid to protect him.”
The multi-Grammy and multi-platinum award-winning hitmaker is known for his work, including the 1996 hit I believe I can fly and the cult classic trapped in the closeta multi-part story of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
Allegations that Kelly molested girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He was sued in 1997 by a woman who alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment when she was a minor, and later faced criminal child pornography charges related to another girl. In Chicago. A jury there acquitted him in 2008 and settled the suit.
Meanwhile, Kelly continued to sell millions of albums.
A federal court jury in Brooklyn convicted him after learning how he used his entourage of managers and assistants to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation prosecutors said amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were minors.
‘He used fame, money and popularity to take advantage’
Kelly, whose birth name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, used his “fame, money and popularity” to “systematically prey on children and young women for his own sexual gratification,” prosecutors wrote in their own filing earlier this month.
The accusers alleged that they were ordered to sign confidentiality forms and subjected to threats and punishment, including violent whipping, if they broke what were called “Rob’s rules”.
Some said they believed the videotapes he recorded of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.
According to testimony, Kelly gave several accusers herpes without disclosing that he had an STD, forced a teenage boy to join him in having sex with a naked girl who emerged from under a boxing ring in his garage, and recorded a embarrassing video of a victim showing her smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking her rules.
Kelly has denied any wrongdoing. She did not testify at her trial, but her attorneys at the time portrayed her accusers as girlfriends and groupies who were not forced to do anything against his will and stayed with him because they enjoyed the benefits of his lifestyle.
Evidence was also presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15 years old. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license that falsely listed her age as 18; she was 27 years old at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, Age is just a number. He died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
An earlier defense memo suggested that prosecutors’ arguments for a higher sentence were overstepped by falsely claiming that Kelly participated in paying a government official a bribe to facilitate the illegal marriage.
Kelly’s attorneys also said it was wrong to claim he should get more time because he sexually abused one of his victims, referred to in court as “Jane,” after her parents innocently entrusted him to help her with her musical career.
“The record shows that Jane’s parents directed Jane to lie to the defendant about her age and then encouraged her to seduce him,” the documents say.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since 2019. He still faces child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where his trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.