R. Kelly, the disgraced R&B singer convicted of leading a criminal enterprise designed to help him prey on boys, girls, and adults for his own sexual gratification, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Kelly, 55, was found guilty last September of all charges against him in Brooklyn federal court. They included racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor, and violations of the Mann Act, which bars the transport of people across state lines for sex.
“These victims were disposable to you,” Judge Anna Donnelly told Kelly before imposing the sentence that also includes a $100,000 fine. “You left in your wake a trail of broken lives… you taught them that love is enslavement and violence and humiliation.”
As the sentencing was read, Kelly, wearing black glasses and a khaki shirt, remained emotionless.
Several women issued victim impact statements before the sentence was rendered, all detailing the effects of Kelly’s pattern of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. A woman identified as Angela, who testified at trial about how she was sexually assaulted by the singer when she was a teenager, looked directly at Kelly as she called him a “pied piper” who lured children with fame.
“With every addition of a new victim, you grew in wickedness,” Angela said. “You used your fame and power to groom and coach underage boys and girls for your own sexual gratification.”
Lizette Martinez, who was in the Surviving R. Kelly docu-series, kept it simple in her statement to the court on Wednesday: “Robert, you destroyed so many people’s lives.”
The sentencing came years after a 2008 failed Chicago case against Kelly. During the trial, where the singer was acquitted on all counts, prosecutors argued a video showed Kelly having sex with the teenage niece of R&B singer Sparkle. Fifteen witnesses, including Sparkle, testified during the trial that garnered nationwide attention. Neither the teenager who was allegedly in the video nor her parents testified.
The grueling six-week trial came after two years of delays spurred by a global pandemic and various legal hurdles—and decades of allegations, charges, and lawsuits. During his sentencing hearing on Wednesday, prosecutors focused on the harrowing abuse revealed during the trial while recommending that Kelly be sentenced to more than 25 years in prison to “protect the public from further crimes.”
“He continued his crimes and avoided punishment for them for almost 30 years and must now be held to account,” federal prosecutors said in a 31-page sentencing memo. “Indeed, the defendant’s decades of crime appear to have been fueled by narcissism and a belief that his musical talent absolved him of any need to conform his conduct—no matter how predatory, harmful, humiliating, or abusive to others—to the structures of the law.”
Kelly’s legal team argued that the singer’s sexual conduct was consensual and that those who spoke out against him were essentially disgruntled exes with an agenda. In a sentencing memo, the team, helmed by Jennifer Bojean, who successfully represented Bill Cosby in his appeal of sexual-assault charges in Pennsylvania, argued that he should be sentenced to less than 10 years, claiming the singer was a victim of abuse himself.
Bojean told reporters after the hearing Wednesday that Kelly was “devastated” by the sentencing, adding that three decades in prison is effectively a “life sentence.” She said they were looking forward to an appeal.
Nine women and two men took to the stand during the trial to discuss the abuse they endured at the hands of Kelly. Almost all of the individuals who testified were under the age of 18 when they first had sexual contact with him. Among the women who testified was one identified as Jane, who testified about a five-year relationship with Kelly that began when she was 17.
In what was probably the most horrifying episode of the trial, she broke down on the stand as she described how Kelly made her smear feces on her mouth and eat it on video as punishment for disobeying one of his rules. (Another time, she said, Kelly made her have an abortion to keep “her body tight.”)
“He told me to smear it in my face and what to exactly say, and to, like, put it in my mouth and act like I liked, enjoyed that,” she told jurors.
Kelly was also found guilty of bribing an Illinois official in order to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah, the “Princess of R&B,” who was just 15 years old at the time of their Aug. 31, 1994, wedding.
New details about the bizarre marriage emerged during the trial, including that the wedding came after Aaliyah believed she was pregnant. Prosecutors alleged that Kelly wanted to marry Aaliyah largely or solely to make sure “she would get an abortion.”
At the time, Aaliyah was 15, and Kelly was 27.