R&B singer R. Kelly has received a 30-year sentence on nine counts of sex trafficking and racketeering, with Judge Ann Donnelly handing down the punishment on Wednesday following statements from the star’s accusers.
The ‘Trapped in the Closet’ singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was convicted on all counts during a six-week trial that concluded in September. Prosecutors made the case that his entourage of managers and assistants helped the singer meet and control young girls, arguing the setup constituted a criminal enterprise under federal laws. Central to this argument was the claim that he violated the Mann Act, which makes it a federal crime to transport anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
“Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this is not a case about sex,” Donnelly told Kelly as she read off his sentence. “It’s a case about violence, cruelty and control.”
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said they plan to appeal. Her team had argued for a sentence of 10 years or less, claiming the singer had “experienced a traumatic childhood involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.” As an adult, his “literary deficiencies” left him open to being “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him,” according to his lawyers.
Several of the singer’s victims also gave statements before the sentence was read. “You made me do things that broke my spirit,” one woman declared, adding “I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel. Do you remember that?”
US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace praised the sentencing as a “significant outcome” for the singer’s victims, declaring he had “preyed upon children and young women … for decades,” forcing “victims, including minors” to appear in “porno films” which he “produced and directed.”
While the multi-platinum recording artist has been dogged by allegations of abuse, specifically relating to underage girls, since the 1990s, the accusations never seemed to impede his career. A 1997 lawsuit by a woman who claimed he had committed sexual battery and harassment against her while she was under 18 was settled, and he was acquitted of 14 counts of child pornography in 2008. His marriage at age 27 to then-15-year-old singer Aaliyah was also examined during the trial, with his former assistant and manager testifying to having helped facilitate the illegal union, which was annulled before the younger artist died in a plane crash in 2001.
The Grammy-winning predator, who has been imprisoned without bail since 2019, also faces federal and state charges in Illinois and Minnesota, with the Illinois trial scheduled to begin in August.