R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case
Kelly is also just weeks away from another trial on charges that could carry even heavier penalties. Kelly’s child pornography and obstruction of justice trial in Chicago’s federal courthouse is set to begin Aug. 15.
NEW YORK — Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for using his fame to sexually abuse young fans, including some who were just children, in a systematic scheme that went on for decades.
Through tears and anger, several of Kelly’s accusers told a court, and the singer himself, that he had misled and preyed upon them.
“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.
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“Do you remember that?” she asked.
Kelly, 55, didn’t give a statement and showed no reaction on hearing his penalty, which also included a $100,000 fine. He has denied wrongdoing, and he plans to appeal his conviction.
However, Kelly is also just weeks away from yet another trial on charges that could carry even heavier penalties. Kelly’s child pornography and obstruction of justice trial in Chicago’s federal courthouse is set to begin Aug. 15.
The feds here say Kelly thwarted Cook County prosecutors in an earlier case that went to trial in 2008, ending in Kelly’s acquittal.
The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling songwriter was found guilty 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.
Victims “have sought to be heard and acknowledged,” another one of his accusers said at his sentencing. “We are no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were.”
A third woman, sobbing and sniffling as she spoke, said Kelly’s conviction renewed her confidence 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.
“I was afraid, naive and didn’t know to handle the situation,” she said, so she didn’t speak up at the time.
“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.”
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said he was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard.
“He’s a human being. He feels what other people are feeling. But that doesn’t mean that he can accept responsibility in the way that the government would like him to and other people would like him to. Because he disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him,” she said.
Steven Greenberg, a Chicago-based lawyer who once represented Kelly in federal court and still serves as his lawyer in a separate case in Cook County, called Kelly’s 30-year prison sentence “outrageous.”
“I think that entire New York prosecution was an abuse, and if anyone looks at the actual facts they will see that the government took a bunch of consensual acts with adults and turned it into a RICO case,” Greenberg said. “That’s a perversion of the law.”
The sentence caps a slow-motion fall for Kelly, who once reportedly performed on Chicago L platforms for spare change and is best known for his 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly.”
He 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 emerge until the #MeToo reckoning, reaching a crescendo after the release of the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
“I hope this sentencing serves as its own testimony that it doesn’t matter how powerful, rich or famous your abuser may be or how small they make you feel — justice only hears the truth,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said Wednesday.
A Brooklyn federal court jury convicted the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, 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.
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.”
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.
“The horrors your victims endured,” U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly said as she sentenced him. “No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”
Contributing: Jon Seidel