R. Kelly, the former R&B singer who had long escaped criminal penalties despite decades of sexual misconduct allegations, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday for racketeering and other crimes.
The sentencing in Brooklyn marks the culmination of a stunning downfall for Mr. Kelly, 55, from a superstar hitmaker who was known as the king of R&B, to a shunned artist whose musical legacy has become inextricable from his abuses.
He was sentenced in New York by federal Judge Ann Donnelly, who spoke at length before issuing the sentence. At one point, she quoted a victim impact statement from a woman known in court as Stephanie, who told Kelly, “No price was too high for someone else to pay for your happiness.”
“This case is not about sex,” the judge said. “It is about violence, cruelty and control.”
Donnelly acknowledged points made by defense, including that Kelly endured a very difficult childhood, with sexual abuse at the hands of his sister and a landlord. However, she added, “You are a person who had great advantages — worldwide fame and celebrity, untold money.”
Kelly declined to address the court himself. His lawyer cited pending cases: a second federal trial in Illinois, slated to begin Aug. 15, and separate criminal charges in Minnesota. The charges include child pornography and obstruction of justice.
Last year, Kelly was found guilty of charges including sexual exploitation of a child, racketeering, bribery and sex trafficking. The jury found the government proved Kelly was at the head of a criminal conspiracy to recruit and coerce girls, boys and women into sex.
During the weekslong trial, multiple victims established a pattern where they would see Kelly at a show or out in public, and an associate of Kelly would hand them a phone number to call. From there they would be ensnared in a system of sexual and psychological abuse. Kelly forced his victims to perform sexual acts for his gratification (which he often filmed). He set up strict rules dictating where his victims were allowed to go and who they were allowed to speak to. And he forced to them to write letters or video tape themselves claiming they were doing everything of their own free will.
Before the judge announced Kelly’s sentence, seven women made their own statements to and about him and about the abuse they suffered. At no point did Kelly look at his accusers.
A woman identified in court as Angela said, “We will be able to live again.”
She said, “I am a representation of every woman, boy, child, man that you have ever afflicted with your deplorable, inexplicable acts, and with that I leave you with yourself, Robert Sylvester Kelly.”
Another woman, known in court as Jane Doe 2, described enduring depression and stress related to Kelly’s abuse. She paused in her comments to demand his attention when Kelly whispered to his attorney. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t want to interrupt his conversation.”
A man identified as Charles, the father of another woman, said in a resigned tone, “So many people love you and they hate us.” He noted that Kelly hadn’t expressed remorse. Charles urged Kelly to confess and to ask for God’s forgiveness.
The sentencing comes after decades of allegations against the multi-platinum singer. In 2008, he stood trial in his hometown of Chicago for child pornography. He was acquitted of all charges.
From there, Kelly continued to live his life of superstardom, performing across the world and selling out venues.
In 2019, the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly renewed interest in the sexual abuse allegations against Kelly and gave a sustained push to the activists who had been pushing for Kelly to be pulled off airwaves and stages.