R&B star R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday for charges related to nearly 30 years’ worth of allegations that he physically and sexually abused women and minors.
His 2021 trial was one of the most high-profilecases to spring from the #MeToo movement. It is also one of the most prominent cases in which the victims were mostly Black women.
Prosecutors had asked for a 25 year sentence while Kelly’s defense team had argued for 14 to 17.5 years.
“The public has to be protected from behaviors like this,” Judge Ann M. Donnelly said as she delivered Kelly’s sentence, according to mediareports. “These crimes were calculated and carefully planned and regularly executed for almost 25 years.”
Last year, a jury in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, found Kelly, 55, guilty of one count of racketeering and eight violations of the Mann Act, a law created to curb sex trafficking across state lines.
Kelly’s racketeering conviction included 14 underlying acts. Witnesses, for example, testified that the ’90s hitmaker fraudulently married R&B singer Aaliyah, who was 15 and believed to be pregnant at the time, by bribing a government official to give her a fake ID that claimed she was an adult. Kelly did this to protect himself legally while he sexually abused Aaliyah, starting when she was 12 or 13 years old, according to prosecutors. She died in a plane crash at 22 years old.
He was also convicted of traveling across state lines for illegal sexual activity, coercion and enticement, and transportation of a minor.
Witnesses, including Kelly’s live-in girlfriends and his former employees, painted a picture of a singer who used his fame, wealth and power to control and sexually abuse women. One accuser identified as “Jane” testified that she was forced into sexual encounters with other women and was unable to leave rooms without Kelly’s permission. Witnesses also testified that Kelly and his team would use the performer’s celebrity to lure and make travel arrangements for his victims, many of them minors hoping for their big break in the music business, only for them to be sexually abused by Kelly.
At Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, one of Kelly’s alleged victims, Angela, turned to him, according to media reports. “With every addition of a new victim, you grew in wickedness,” she said. “You used your fame and power to groom and coach underage boys and girls for your own sexual gratification.”
Before Kelly’s fall from grace, he was one of the most popular R&B singer-songwriters of the ’90s. For years the recording industry appeared to ignore allegations against him and Kelly seemed untouchable. In 2008, he was acquitted in a child pornography case, in which he was accused of making a sex tape with a minor. The jury cleared the charges after the defense team argued the identity of the girl in the video couldn’t be confirmed.
The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling star continued to churn out hits for years — from “I Believe I Can Fly” to “Step in the Name of Love” — before a social media campaign, #MuteRKelly, began calling for the public to stop financially supporting him. Then in 2019, the six-part Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” put the singer under more scrutiny.
Kelly also faces various criminal charges in Chicago and Minnesota. In August, he is scheduled to go to trial in Illinois on federal charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice. In that case, Kelly switched defense attorneys, hiring Jennifer Bonjean, who helped free Bill Cosby last year after he served three years of a prison sentence for sexual assault. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in 2020.