R. Kelly Sentenced to 30 Years in Sex Trafficking Case

R. Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for using his R&B superstardom to subject young fans to systematic sexual abuse. 

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly imposed the sentence at a courthouse in Brooklyn. The sentence capped a slow-motion fall for the singer-songwriter, 55. He remained adored by legions of fans even after allegations about his abuse of young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.

A Brooklyn federal court jury last fall found Kelly, 55, guilty of racketeering and other counts at a trial that was seen as a signature moment in the #MeToo movement. 

Outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct with young women and children was fueled in part by the widely watched docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which gave voice to accusers who wondered whether their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women. 

Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, manipulated millions of fans into believing he was someone other than the man the jury saw, one accuser told the court Wednesday. 

Victims “have sought to be heard and acknowledged,” she said. “We are no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were.” 

Another woman, sobbing and sniffling as she spoke, said Kelly’s conviction renewed her confidence in the legal system. 

“I once lost hope,” she said, addressing the court and prosecutors, “but you restored my faith.” 

The woman said Kelly victimized her after she went to a concert when she was 17. 

“I was afraid, naive and didn’t know how to handle the situation,” she said, so she didn’t speak up at the time. 

“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.” 

Kelly kept his hands folded and eyes downcast as he listened. “He’s strong, and we are going to get through this,” defense lawyer Jennifer Bonjean said on her way into court.

Donnelly determined that federal guidelines allowed for a sentence of up to life in prison. Kelly’s lawyers sought 10 years or less. 

They argued in court papers he should get a break in part because he “experienced a traumatic childhood involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty and violence.” 

As an adult with “literacy deficiencies,” the star was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him,” his lawyers said. 

The hitmaker is known for work including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet,” a multipart tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue. 

Allegations that Kelly abused young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He was sued in 1997 by a woman who alleged sexual battery and sexual harassment while she was a minor, and he later faced criminal child pornography charges related to a different girl in Chicago. A jury there acquitted him in 2008, and he settled the lawsuit. 

All the while, Kelly continued to sell millions of albums.