When a federal jury found… R. Kelly Guilty of nine charges related to racketeering and sex trafficking in September, it brought some measure of legal closure from its long trail of abuse. Almost thirty years ago, allegations of sexual misconduct from the singer surfaced: Over the course of his career, Kelly married 15-year-old Aaliyah, faced and was cleared of child pornography, and called himself R&B’s Pied Piper, cultivated a artistic personality who positioned sex as a matter of his eccentric genius.
During Kelly’s sentencing hearing in a Brooklyn courtroom on Wednesday, Judge Ann Marie Donnelly, when announcing her decision, reflected on the magnitude of his abuses: “These crimes were calculated and carefully planned for nearly 25 years.” She sentenced the singer, who worked at the top of pop and R&B, to 30 years in prison.
Kelly’s trial lasted six weeks and involved testimony from more than 40 witnesses. Prosecutors described the singer as the leader of a criminal enterprise made up of his entourage and employees who used his celebrity to recruit his numerous underage victims. Prosecutors had demanded a sentence of at least 25 years, while Kelly’s lawyers had demanded 10 or less. Kelly is 55 years old.
Wednesday’s hearing expanded on the horrors outlined at his trial last year, adding a level of detail about the lasting impact of Kelly’s abuse. A woman testifying under the name Addie, who said Kelly sexually assaulted her in 1994, said in her victim statement in court that she “has suffered emotional breakdowns in my heart and thoughts of suicide and self-sabotage.”
Lizzie Martinez, who said she met Kelly when she was 17 years old in 1995, said a “life of depression and PTSD” began with his sexual assaults. She recalled how his friends and entourage watched as she became his “sex slave” for years.
She turned to Kelly and said, “Robert, you’ve ruined so many lives.”
“I feel like I need to jog your memory,” said another woman, identified as Jane Doe No. 2, addressing Kelly. The woman met Kelly when he was 31 and she 19. She told how Kelly forced her to have oral sex with him in a car full of his 30-year-old friends.
“Do you remember that?” she said in a firm voice.
As Kelly whispered to his lawyers, the woman paused her own statement: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt his conversation.”
Outside of such interactions with his counsel, Kelly did not visibly move or react during the victim statements or while Donnelly read his sentence.
While Kelly’s trial was the first high-profile case of the #MeToo era in which most of the victims were black, race was rarely mentioned in the court proceedings. Kelly garnered success and acclaim in the American pop music landscape, and more specifically in the black traditions of R&B and gospel. As Kitti Jones, who has said Kelly abused her during their relationship between 2011 and 2013, spoke Wednesday, pointing to the time that passed before Kelly’s crimes caught up with him.
“He knew his fanbase looked like many of his victims,” Jones said, “he knew the public would never believe them.”
The only words Kelly had for the courtroom just before his sentence was handed down were, “Yes, Your Honor, that is my wish.” He confirmed his lawyer Jennifer Bonjean’s noted that he declined to address the judge or his victims, citing his other pending cases. (Kelly is also charged with state-level sexual offenses in Minnesota and federal charges in Illinois, all of which he has denied.) As in Kelly’s sentencing in court, Bonjean said on Wednesday that extenuating factors for Kelly’s sentence should include his own history. of child abuse.
“He accepts that he is a flawed person,” she said. “He sits here with regret.”
When explaining her sentencing decision, Donnelly said she’s taking into account Kelly’s experience of abuse, but only to a degree: “Even if it’s some form of explanation, it’s certainly not an excuse.” She wondered how it could have all happened in plain sight.
“I don’t know why these people are turning a blind eye,” Donnelly said, referring to the members of Kelly’s company. “Maybe it just became normal for these people.”
The sentence she decided on is about as long as Kelly’s abuse record. For decades, he operated with near-total impunity as his career flourished. A woman who used the pseudonym Angela on Wednesday shared how the truths of Kelly’s life and work had finally begun together: “Your self-proclaimed Pied Piper alter ego couldn’t exist without the living, breathing Robert Sylvester Kelly.”