U.S. News

R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in prison in sex trafficking case

Claire Cardona and Adam Reiss
R&B singer R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Courts Building following a hearing on June 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

R. Kelly, the disgraced R&B superstar, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison, months after he was convicted on all nine counts against him in a high-profile sex trafficking case.

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnelly handed down the sentence in a Brooklyn courtroom after several of Kelly's victims angrily addressed the convicted sex offender at the hearing.

"You degraded me, humiliated me and broke my spirit," said a woman, who went by the alias Jane Doe No. 2. "I wished I would die because of how you degraded me."

The victim recalled an incident when she was forced to perform oral sex on the music star "after you played basketball, in a car full of your friends."

"Do you remember that?!" she said. "You couldn't care less. I avoided your name and your songs and suffocated with fear. What you did left a permanent stain on my life."

The victim stopped speaking momentarily when she saw Kelly speaking to one of his attorneys and sarcastically apologized: "I'm sorry, I don't want to interrupt your conversation."

"You are an abuser, shameless, disgusting," she added. "I hope you go to jail for the rest of your life. I feel sorry for you."

Kelly, 55, was convicted in September of racketeering and violating the Mann Act, the law that bans transporting people across state lines "for any immoral purpose."

The sentence was more than the 25 years federal prosecutors had sought in a letter to Donnelly earlier this month.

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In the memo and during the trial, prosecutors argued that Kelly relied on his fame, money and popularity — and a network of people who surrounded him — to carry out his crimes.

"With the aid of his inner circle and over a period of decades, the defendant preyed upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification," the memo said. "He continued his crimes and avoided punishment for them for almost 30 years and must now be held to account." Jane Doe No. 1 cried as she addressed the court and said she spent years believing Kelly would never face justice.

"I know there are fans of R. Kelly who don't believe us," said the woman, who was 17 when she first met Kelly at a concert in September 1994.

"I once lost hope in our justice system, but you restored my faith, it's a constant battle and I no longer live in silence. It is inhumane to endure sexual assault, sex trafficking, it is modern day slavery in plain sight."

Kelly's attorneys argued in a separate memo that a sentence of more than 10 years would be "greater than necessary."

During the trial, which centered on the allegations of six people, prosecutors said Kelly was a serial sexual predator who abused young women, as well as underage girls and boys, for more than two decades.

Prosecutors alleged that he and his entourage led a criminal enterprise that recruited and groomed victims for sex, arranging for them to travel to concerts and events across the U.S.

Kelly was also accused of confining victims in hotel rooms or his recording studio, managing when they could eat and use the bathroom and forcing them to follow various "rules," including demanding that they call him "Daddy."

Attorneys for the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, tried to portray his accusers as "groupies" who sought to exploit his fame and take advantage of the #MeToo movement.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges and did not take the stand in his own defense.

Kelly, best known for the 1996 hit "I Believe I Can Fly," was considered one of the kings of R&B in the 1990s and 2000s and was widely credited with helping to redefine the genre.

But the rise of #MeToo helped lead to greater scrutiny of his behavior behind the scenes.

"Surviving R. Kelly," a Lifetime documentary series released in 2019 that featured testimony from several accusers, intensified calls for him to face legal consequences.

Following his sentencing, Kelly is scheduled to stand trial in August in Chicago on federal child pornography and obstruction of justice charges.

He was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography charges.