R. Kelly gets extra year in prison for Chicago child porn conviction

The Grammy-winning artist, who once won hearts around the world with his “I Believe I Can Fly” anthem in the 1990s, remains on track to leave prison in the 2040s when he’s in his late 70s.

SHARE R. Kelly gets extra year in prison for Chicago child porn conviction
R. Kelly during his sentencing hearing on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. He is flanked by attorneys Jennifer Bonjean (left) and Ashley Cohen.

R. Kelly is shown during his sentencing hearing Thursday. He is flanked by his attorneys Jennifer Bonjean (left) and Ashley Cohen.

L.D. Chukman

R. Kelly spent four weeks on trial last year in a Chicago courtroom, where prosecutors called more than 20 witnesses to lay out evidence of his sexual abuse of teenage girls dating back roughly 25 years — including a notorious child pornography video.

A federal judge heard again Thursday from three of Kelly’s victims, who explained the many years of torment and damage inflicted by the R&B superstar whose real name is Robert Kelly.

One spoke nervously, saying she felt used and “rejected in every way imaginable.” Another, through her attorney, told the judge that “Robert shattered me.”

But at the end of a two-and-a-half hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber handed down a prison sentence that effectively added just one year to a separate 30-year sentence Kelly, 56, is already serving for his 2021 New York racketeering conviction.

“No matter what I do, Mr. Kelly isn’t going out the door after today,” Leinenweber said. “He’s not going out the door in the next 10 years. He’s not going out the door in the next 20 years.”

Rather, the Grammy-winning artist who once won hearts around the world with his “I Believe I Can Fly” anthem in the 1990s, remains on track to leave prison in the 2040s when he’s in his late 70s.

Leinenweber officially sentenced Kelly to 20 years in prison for his conviction in Chicago on three counts of producing child pornography and three counts of enticing minors into criminal sexual activity. But the judge fashioned the sentence so Kelly will serve 19 of those years while also serving his New York sentence.

The judge set aside one year of the Chicago sentence, ordering that Kelly not start serving it until he’s finished with his New York sentence, likely around 2044.

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R. Kelly’s defense attorneys, Jennifer Bonjean (right) and Ashley Cohen, speak to reporters at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Thursday. Bonjean said she considers Kelly’s sentence “a win.”

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Kelly sat stone-faced throughout much of the hearing, offering minimal reactions at times. He wore an orange jail jumpsuit and black glasses. But when the hearing ended, and fans called out “we love you Rob” from the courtroom gallery, Kelly patted his chest and waved before being led away.

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge to add 25 years to Kelly’s time in prison. But speaking to reporters after the hearing, U.S. Attorney John Lausch insisted the 20-year sentence is still “impactful,” regardless of how it’s served.

Lausch did express disappointment with Leinenweber’s ruling that Kelly owed just $42,000 in restitution to one victim, known in court as “Pauline.” Prosecutors had sought at least $11 million total for Pauline and two others, known in court as “Jane” and “Nia.”

The most serious crimes in Kelly’s Chicago case centered on his sexual abuse of Jane, who is now 38. Kelly sexually abused Jane on camera when she was around 14. The videos he made included one that went public in the early 2000s.

Jane’s Boston-based attorney, Christopher Brown, told the Chicago Sun-Times after the hearing that he and his client are “satisfied with the sentence.”

“All we ever wanted was accountability,” he said.

The Chicago sentence also offers some assurance that Kelly will remain in prison even if his sentence in New York is one day overturned. Defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean later pointed out that such a development could force a new sentencing hearing in Chicago, though.

Leinenweber said that if he’d had the opportunity to sentence Kelly first, he likely would have handed down the same sentence. Regardless, Bonjean told reporters the outcome of Thursday’s hearing was “a win.”

“Mr. Kelly is in good spirits,” Bonjean said. “He is pleased with the outcome of the case. Again, there’s still a big fight ahead of us.”

That’s because Kelly’s legal odyssey is not over. While Thursday’s hearing resolved the most serious charges against him, his attorneys will now turn to battles in the appellate courts. Kelly has already filed an appeal in the New York case, and one is expected in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Kelly still faces prostitution charges in Minnesota. Cook County prosecutors dismissed their own cases against him last month.

Before handing down the sentence Thursday, Leinenweber heard from the three women that a jury last year convicted Kelly of abusing.

Brown read a written statement from Jane, who said she lost her dreams — and nearly her entire family — because of the abuse that began after she asked Kelly to be her godfather. She reminded the judge that “millions of people” have seen the graphic tape he made of her abuse, including a scene in which he urinated on her.

“I will forever be the girl that Robert Kelly pissed on,” she said.

Kelly started abusing Pauline when she was 14, after Jane introduced them. Now 38, Pauline told the judge she once thought she was “going to conquer the world” with Kelly. She’s since realized the pain he caused her and said she doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her children.

She said Kelly’s abuse also destroyed her relationship with her best friend, Jane.

Leinenweber also heard from Nia, who is now 42. She tucked her hands into her pockets as she struggled through much of her statement. Kelly abused her twice when she was around 15, once by fondling her and masturbating after a concert in Minnesota and then by fondling her in his Chicago recording studio.

Nia said that while planning to meet Kelly after the Minnesota concert, she felt like “Cinderella going to a ball.” That was when she was a “skinny, shapeless teenager” who “looked like a child,” though. She said she met Kelly again later, as a woman, and he seemed to disregard her.

Nia told Kelly, “You were only interested in children.”

Flanked by other family members, R. Kelly’s uncle Gregory Preston and aunt Anna Marie Preston (center) speak to reporters at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Thursday

Flanked by family members, R. Kelly’s uncle, Gregory Preston, and aunt Anna Marie Preston (center) speak to reporters at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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