R&B star R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday for using his superstardom to subject young fans — some who were 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.
U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly imposed the sentence 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, 55, didn’t speak at his sentencing, where he also was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. He was convicted last year of racketeering and sex trafficking at a trial that gave voice to accusers who had previously wondered if their stories were being ignored because they were Black women.
“Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this is not a case about sex. It’s a case about violence, cruelty and control,” the judge told Kelly.
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 didn’t come until the MeToo reckoning, reaching a crescendo after the release of the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.
Kelly manipulated millions of fans into believing he was someone other than the man the jury saw, another accuser said.
Victims “have sought to be heard and acknowledged,” she said. “We are no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were.”
A third woman who sobbed as she spoke, said Kelly’s conviction restored her faith in the legal system.
“I once lost hope,” she said, addressing the court and prosecutors, “but you restored my faith.”
The woman said Kelly victimized her after she went to a concert when she was 17. She said she didn’t speak up at the time because she was “afraid, naive and didn’t know how to handle the situation.”
“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.”
Lawyers wanted lenient sentence due to traumatic childhood
Kelly’s lawyers had argued in court papers he should get no more than 10 years in prison because he “experienced 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 multiplatinum-selling Grammy-winning singer is known for songs including the 1996 hit I Believe I Can Fly and the cult hit Trapped in the Closet.
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 about how he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation 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 video recordings 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 of one victim showing her smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
Kelly schemed to fraudulently marry Aaliyah, witnesses testified
Evidence also was presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B singer Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a licence 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’s lawyers also said it was wrong to assert he should get more time because he sexually abused one of his victims — referred to in court as “Jane” — after her parents 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 papers said.
The Associated Press does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused, unless they come forward publicly.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since in 2019. He’s still facing child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.