“R. Kelly Is Sentenced to 30 Years for Scheme to Lure Children Into Sex”, The New York Times
Troy Closson, June 29, 2022
The R&B singer, 55, is likely to spend much of the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of years of psychological and sexual abuse.
Thirty-one years ago, R. Kelly, a budding R&B artist from Chicago in his mid-20s, was signed to his first major record label. Around the same time, he began having sex with a 15-year-old girl, according to her subsequent lawsuit.
The accusations mounted over the decades. They grew increasingly heinous. They spilled into public view. Still, the singer who became a superstar leaned on his fame to mask the predator under the persona — and to shield himself from consequences.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kelly, 55, could no longer escape the fallout: He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering and sex trafficking. As the judge read out his term, he did not react, and outside, his victims expressed deep relief at the decision.
The sentencing that followed a September conviction culminated Mr. Kelly’s staggering downfall, from a chart-topping hitmaker known as the king of R&B to a pariah whose musical legacy has become inextricable from his abuses. His trial exposed harrowing and systematic torment directed by the musician and enabled by those in his orbit.
U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who presided over the federal trial in Brooklyn, said in court that “few crimes more serious” than Mr. Kelly’s exist, and that he had manipulated girls and women. “You taught them that love is enslavement and violence,” the judge said, recalling the scenarios he created to wreak primal humiliation on them.
“This case is not about sex. It’s about violence and cruelty and control,” Judge Donnelly said. “You had a system in place that lured young people into your orbit — and then you took over their lives.”
Mr. Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said outside the courthouse that she would appeal the sentence. She had sought 10 years. Mr. Kelly was prepared for prison, she said, but “has regrets and is sad.”
Mr. Kelly was among the most successful American musicians of the 1990s and 2000s, as chart-topping hits like “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition (Remix)” catapulted him to some of the world’s largest stages.
But as the entertainer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, crafted an image as a sex symbol, he exploited access to young fans and aspiring musicians to fulfill his desires, the government said.
For an hour in court on Wednesday, seven women and one of their fathers delivered wrenching accounts, describing the devastation of their sense of self-worth, and how the trauma continues to touch every facet of their lives.
One woman, known in court only by the pseudonym Jane Doe No. 2, said she had sex with the entertainer in 1999 when she was 17, and said she still often finds herself “sobbing uncontrollably at random times of the day.”
“I was a teenager. And you were a pedophile, ready to ruin another young lady’s life” the woman said. “You made me do things that broke me. I literally wished that I could die because of how you made me feel.”
She had first encountered Mr. Kelly with hopes of helping a friend land an audition, she said, but the singer coerced her into sex. The courtroom grew tense at one point as Mr. Kelly and his lawyer whispered at their table.
“I’m sorry I don’t want to interrupt his conversation,” she interrupted, pausing until the room returned to silence.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be whole,” the woman continued. “What you did has left a permanent stain on my life that I will never be able to wash away. I’m sure you never think about that.”
After the women told their stories, Mr. Kelly declined to speak. He still faces an Aug. 15 trial in Chicago on federal charges for producing child pornography and luring minors into sex acts, which his lawyer said prompted the decision.
The facade that federal prosecutors said long protected the singer began to crumble in the late 2010s, after years of inaction despite whispers about his abuse throughout the music industry.
The explosion of the #MeToo movement had coincided with a protest campaign against his music, a troubling Lifetime documentary on his treatment of women and the new accusations of accusers and their families. This time, the scrutiny was too much to evade.
On Wednesday, the women in court said that the moment was a long-awaited catharsis.
“We reclaim our names from beneath the shadow of your inflicted trauma,” said a woman who spoke in court under a pseudonym, but identified herself to reporters as Jovante outside the court. “We are no longer the preyed-upon individuals we once were. We will be able to live again.”
Ms. Bonjean argued in court that the government’s portrayal of Mr. Kelly as a “one-dimensional” predator and “evil monster” was misguided, and that he endured childhood challenges — including his own sexual abuse.
Starting around age 6, she said, the singer was molested, sometimes on a “weekly basis.” Ms. Bonjean said it was not an excuse, but a consideration.
Indeed, the judge considered copious trial evidence in her decision. The government called 45 witnesses, including 11 victims who painstakingly recounted Mr. Kelly’s brutality. Jurors were also confronted with hours of jarring audio and video recordings, including one in which, at the singer’s behest, a woman sullied herself with her own waste.
Other accounts were similarly disquieting. One of two men who testified that they were sexually abused by Mr. Kelly recalled a moment when he was at the singer’s home gym in Illinois. Mr. Kelly snapped his fingers twice, he said, and a “young lady” crawled out from under a boxing ring to perform sex acts on them.
“I will never forget that,” Judge Donnelly said of the story. She added that she was baffled by the hundreds of enablers who surrounded the singer. “I don’t know why all these people turned a blind eye,” said the judge, who also ordered Mr. Kelly to pay a $100,000 fine.
The case, like other high-profile #MeToo era prosecutions, illustrated how powerful people in a fame-besotted age can skirt consequences, even as accusations of sexual misconduct persist for decades. Many people were familiar with similar allegations about the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, the comedian.
The race of Mr. Kelly’s accusers also may have been consequential: Black women have historically been more likely than white women to have abuse accusations distrusted or dismissed.
“There wasn’t a day in my life, up until this moment, that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for Black and brown girls,” Jovante said outside the courthouse. “I stand here, very proud.”
For Mr. Kelly, questions about his encounters with women burst into the public after Vibe magazine reported on his illegal marriage in 1994 to the R&B star Aaliyah, when she was 15 and he was 27. Six years later, The Chicago Sun-Times published an investigationinto accusations that the singer was having sex with underage girls.
Through it all, Mr. Kelly’s stardom remained intact, even during a criminal trial in 2008, that centered on an infamous 27-minute tape that appeared to show him having sex with an underage girl. (He was acquitted on all counts after the girl declined to testify at trial.)
The singer performed at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics on the same day Chicago police revealed they were investigating him. Hours after the singer pleaded not guilty to the charges that led to his 2008 trial, he sang alongside children at a church in Chicago.
Through the mid-2010s, he headlined major music festivals while collaborating with stars, from Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, to Jennifer Hudson and Chance the Rapper.
And as Mr. Kelly continues to retain a sizable base of support, one victim’s father, who gave his name as Charles in court on Wednesday, detailed the threats and intense harassment his family has endured.
“I do want to ask you, Mr. Kelly, to look at me, and just think what I might be feeling. Put yourself in my shoes,” Charles pleaded as he turned to face him. “We’re suffering because so many people love you. They hate us.”
Charles told the singer he did not harbor ill will toward him, and encouraged him to seek forgiveness from God.
“But for him to forgive you, you have to admit what you’ve done,” Charles said. “So it’s up to you.”
The singer’s gaze remained fixed on the table in front of him, and never met the man’s eyes.
Chelsia Rose Marcius and Hurubie Meko contributed reporting.
For the victims of the R&B singer R. Kelly, his sentencing in New York on Wednesday has been long awaited, arriving after decades of accusations of sexual and physical abuse. But Wednesday’s decision aside, the former entertainer will remain in deep legal peril — and any prison term he faces could still ultimately grow.
Mr. Kelly is scheduled to stand trial again in Chicago on Aug. 15, where he faces federal charges for producing child pornography and luring minors into sex acts.
It will arrive 14 years after his first Illinois trial, a high-profile affair in 2008 where he was acquitted of more than a dozen counts of child pornography.
Now, prosecutors say that Mr. Kelly and two former employees, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown, tried to manipulate the case’s outcome, paying off witnesses and victims to buy their cooperation. One man, for example, received about $170,000 in 2008 to cancel a news conference where he was set to announce he had video evidence of the singer’s illegal sexual behavior, the indictment claims.
Mr. Kelly and his two former employees have pleaded not guilty to the allegations. Mr. Kelly also faces other state sex crime charges in Illinois and accusations of prostitution with a minor in Minnesota.
The scene at the Chicago courthouse could be far different from the New York trial, where just a few supporters of Mr. Kelly arrived to watch the proceedings each day. Throughout his career, Mr. Kelly leaned on his deep connections to Chicago, his hometown, and has retained a sizable group of fans in the city.
Still, the August trial is not expected to fully mirror the atmosphere around his first case, when Mr. Kelly was invited to perform alongside children at a Chicago church the same day that he pleaded not guilty to the child pornography accusations. As he left the courthouse upon his acquittal, Mr. Kelly saluted a large contingent of supporters, who cheered, with little pushback from others in the crowd.
Lizzette Martinez, one of the victims who spoke earlier at the hearing, told reporters she was an “up and coming singer, a girl full of life” before she met R. Kelly and became “a sex slave.”
“I personally don’t think it’s enough but I’m pleased with it,” she said of his 30-year sentence.
5 hours ago
Gloria Allred, the lawyer for the victims, addressed reporters outside of the courthouse, with at least one of the women who gave statements today behind her. “They wanted the court to understand their pain,” she said.
“Together they were able to fight his power by becoming empowered,” she added. “I’m proud of all of them.”
Allred said they are “relieved he has been sent to prison.”
“Protecting other girls has been a major goal,” she said.
6 hours ago
Breon S. Peace, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.
“This is a significant outcome for all victims of R. Kelly,” he said. “He continued committing his crimes for almost 30 years and avoided punishment — until today.”
6 hours ago
Jennifer Bonjean, R. Kelly’s lawyer, spoke to the press outside of the courthouse. “He’s not a predator.”
“He was prepared for it,” she said of Kelly’s reaction to the sentencing.
“He has regrets and he is sad,” she added. “He disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him.”
June 29, 2022
Judge Ann M. Donnelly said that her sentence is one “I would have imposed regardless of the guidelines.”
Donnelly spent minutes detailing instances of abuse and violence that were brought up during the trial, and addressed Kelly directly about what he did to his victims.
“These crimes were calculated and carefully planned and regularly executed for almost 25 years,” she said. “You taught them that love is enslavement and violence.”
June 29, 2022
Prior to his sentencing, R. Kelly declined to make a statement, because of pending litigation, his attorney said.
When asked directly by the judge, he said: “Yes your honor, that is my wish.”
June 29, 2022
Judge Ann M. Donnelly told R. Kelly that “the public has to be protected from behaviors like this.”
Ann M. Donnelly, the judge who sentenced the former R&B artist R. Kelly, was thrust into the national spotlight after former President Donald J. Trump’s executive order that barred refugeesfrom entering the United States. Judge Donnelly ruled that the order could lead to “irreparable harm” if travelers were sent home.
She once again made a high-profile decision, handing down Mr. Kelly’s sentence on Wednesday, which could leave him with life in prison, despite his defense lawyers’ request for 10 years.
President Barack Obama nominated her to her current position as a U.S. district judge in Brooklyn in 2015, six years after she began her first judgeship in the New York Court of Claims. She was confirmed by the Senate in a 95-to-2 vote.
Judge Donnelly was hired in the Manhattan district attorney’s office in 1984, where she stayed for 25 years, holding roles including senior trial counsel and chief of the Family Violence and Child Abuse Bureau.
One former colleague, Daniel J. Horwitz, who worked in the district attorney’s office from 1991 to 2000, told The New York Times after her ruling on Trump’s executive order that she was “eminently fair with an even temperament.”
He added: “She’s exactly the type of judge you want to appear in front of.”
Another colleague, Linda A. Fairstein, said that Judge Donnelly had a “sterling reputation” in the office.
“I worked with a lot of great lawyers in public service,” Ms. Fairstein said in 2017. “There is a fairness about her to the core that is just extraordinary.”