R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison in a New York court on Wednesday.
The 55-year-old singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was convicted of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting people across state lines for prostitution. He has been in jail since July of 2019; 45 witnesses testified for the government. He still faces child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, as well as charges in state courts in Illinois and Minnesota.
Kelly, one of the most successful hitmakers of the 1990s and early 2000s, was found guilty of all nine counts against him in September, after a six-week trial revealed how he had used employees and intermediaries to lure fans and hopeful singers into sexually abusive and controlling conditions, including locking them in rooms without food or access to a bathroom for days.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a sentence “in excess of 25 years,” reflecting Kelly’s continued danger to the public and apparent lack of remorse for using his fame to sexually and emotionally abuse alleged victims, many of them underaged.
Kelly’s attorney — Jennifer Bonjean, who also represented Bill Cosby in his successful overturn of sexual assault conviction last year — argued for the minimum sentence of no more than 10 years in prison, even though the singer had been convicted of scheming over decades to recruit women and underaged girls and men for sex, claiming that his own experience as an abused child could have caused his “hypersexuality” later in life.
The first victim to take the stand was a woman named Angela, who stood at a lectern and looked directly at Kelly as she spoke, according to the New York Times, calling him a Pied Piper who lured children with his money and fame.
“With every addition of a new victim, you grew in wickedness. You used your fame and power to groom and coach underage boys and girls for your own sexual gratification,” she said. “We are no longer the preyed-upon individuals we once were. pray that god reaches your soul,” she said.
A second victim, Addie, said she regrets keeping silent for decades about her 1990s experience with Kelly, because “the last four years have been a rude awakening of how my silence has hurt others.”
Lizette Martinez said in her impact statement, “I do not know how to put a price on all I’ve gone through. I am now 45, a mother and I struggle with mental health.” Looking directly at Kelly, who did not return her stare, she said, “Robert, you destroyed so many people’s lives.” Another, identified as “Jane Doe No. 2,” said, “I hope you go to jail for the rest of your life.”
The father of a sixth victim, who accompanied his daughter to the stand, said, “I didn’t come here to bash Mr. Kelly,” before continuing. “I do want to ask you, Mr. Kelly, to look at me, man to man, father to father. Put yourself in my shoes. I’ve certainly put myself in your shoes.” Kelly did not meet his gaze.
Kelly, who wore black eyeglasses and a khaki shirt, largely kept his head down during the hearing, according to the Times, occasionally looking up at the judge or a witness.
Allegations of Kelly’s abuse of underaged girls followed him throughout his career, first arising in the early 1990s. In 1994 he illegally married Aaliyah Haughton, a protégé singer, when she was just 15 by using a faked I.D. card that his former manager later admitted he had procured. In 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times was sent a graphic video that Kelly had filmed of himself having sex with a girl who was allegedly underaged but refused to testify against him. He was indicted and briefly jailed in 2002 but was acquitted six years later.
His career — and his alleged abuse — continued, largely unabated, until allegations began arising again in the early 2010s and finally “Surviving R. Kelly,” a 2019 Lifetime docuseries featuring vivid accounts from his alleged victims, turned public opinion dramatically against him, even though it largely repeated information that had been public for many years. By the time he was jailed, his substantial touring and recorded-music income — which had funded the lawyers and other efforts to keep the allegations against him at bay — had largely dried up.
At the trial last fall, nine women and two men graphically described Kelly’s sexual and emotional abuse, and several said under oath that they were minors when he first had sex with them.
Prosecutors wrote in their sentencing letter that Kelly evidences no remorse for or even acknowledgement of his illegal behavior, showing “a callous disregard” for the impact of his abuse, which was apparently “fueled by narcissism and a belief that his musical talent absolved him of any need to conform his conduct” to the law.
According to the New York Times, Kelly’s attorney wrote in her sentencing letter that prosecutors had portrayed her client as “a one-dimensional villain” whose “severe history of sexual abuse” as a child at the hands of relatives and others deserves leniency. “He is not an evil monster but a complex (unquestionably flawed) human-being who faced overwhelming challenges in childhood that shaped his adult life,” she wrote. She stated that Kelly has an IQ of 79 and is “functionally illiterate,” which has also caused him shame and fear throughout his life.
After the sentencing Kelly will likely be transferred to Chicago, where he faces an August trial on child pornography and obstruction charges.