R&B star R Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for using his superstardom to subject young fans — some just children — to systematic sexual abuse.
The singer and songwriter, 55, was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking last year at a trial that gave voice to accusers who had once wondered if their stories were being ignored because they were Black women.
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US District Judge Ann Donnelly imposed the sentence on Wednesday after hearing from several survivors who attested to how Kelly’s exploitation reverberated across their lives.
“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel,” said one unnamed survivor, directly addressing Kelly, who kept his hands folded and his eyes downcast. “Do you remember that?”
Kelly did not address the court.
The sentence caps a slow-motion fall for Kelly, who was adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.
Widespread outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct did not come until the #MeToo reckoning, reaching a crescendo after the release of the docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly.
Kelly’s lawyers had argued he should get no more than 10 years in prison because he had a traumatic childhood “involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence”.
As an adult with “literacy deficiencies”, the star was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him”, his lawyers said.
The hitmaker is known for work including the 1996 hit, I Believe I Can Fly, and the cult classic, Trapped in the Closet, a multi-part tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
Allegations that Kelly abused young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He was sued in 1997 by a woman who alleged sexual battery and sexual harassment while she was a minor, and he later faced criminal child pornography charges related to a different girl in Chicago. A jury there acquitted him in 2008, and he settled the lawsuit.
All the while, Kelly continued to sell millions of albums.
The Brooklyn federal court jury convicted him after hearing that he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation that prosecutors said amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, used his “fame, money and popularity” to systematically “prey upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification”, prosecutors wrote in a court filing earlier this month.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
The accusers alleged they were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules”.
Some said they believed the videotapes he shot 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 he had an STD, coerced a teenage boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage, and shot a shaming video that showed one victim smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
Kelly has denied any wrongdoing. He did not testify at his trial, but his then-lawyers portrayed his accusers as girlfriends and groupies who were not forced to do anything against their will and stayed with him because they enjoyed the perks of his lifestyle.
Evidence also was presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
An earlier defence memo suggested prosecutors’ arguments for a higher sentence overreached by falsely claiming Kelly participated in the paying of a bribe to a government official in order to facilitate the illegal marriage.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since 2019. He is still facing child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin on August 15.