Disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, following his conviction last year on federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges stemming from his efforts over years to use his fame to ensnare victims he sexually abused.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Kelly, 55, to more than 25 years behind bars, while his defense attorneys asked for 10 or fewer, saying prosecutors’ request was “tantamount to a life sentence.”
Survivors of Kelly’s abuse held hands and prayed as US District Court Judge Ann Donnelly began reading his sentence. Kelly — who wore a tan prison uniform, dark-rimmed glasses and a black mask at the hearing in federal court in Brooklyn — showed no emotion.
“You left in your wake a trail of broken lives,” Donnelly told Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly.
In deciding the sentence, Donnelly said she considered Kelly’s own traumatic childhood, during which his attorneys said he was repeatedly sexually abused by a family member and a landlord.
“It may explain, at least in part, what led to your behavior,” the judge said. “It most surely is not an excuse.”
Jovante Cunningham, a former backup singer for Kelly, praised the sentence.
“I started this journey 30 years ago,” Cunningham said outside the court after the hearing. “There wasn’t a day in my life up until this moment that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for Black and brown girls. I stand here very proud of my judicial system, very proud of my fellow survivors and very pleased with the outcome.”
A jury convicted Kelly last September on nine counts, including one charge of racketeering and eight counts of violations of the Mann Act, a sex trafficking law. Prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York accused Kelly of using his status as a celebrity and a “network of people at his disposal to target girls, boys and young women for his own sexual gratification.”
The five-week federal trial in Brooklyn included testimony from witnesses who said they were sexually and physically abused by Kelly. The court also heard from people involved with orchestrating the disgraced R&B singer’s 1994 marriage to the late singer Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old and he was an adult after she believed she’d gotten pregnant.
Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said he would not address the court, pointing to the other criminal case faced by Kelly, but said before the sentence was read that her client “rejects that he is this monster.”
“He accepts that he is a flawed individual,” Bonjean said, “but he is not this one-dimensional monster that the government has portrayed and the media has portrayed.”
Kelly made his only comment in response to the judge after Bonjean said he wouldn’t speak: “Yes, your honor, that’s my wish.”
Bonjean said she advised Kelly not to speak at the sentencing because of pending litigation against him, but added, “he has regrets. And he is sad. Nobody wants to hear what he heard today.”
‘No one can undo the harm’
Prior to sentencing, the court heard impact statements from seven of Kelly’s victims, including Jane Doe 2, who testified at trial.
“It’s been 23 years since we knew each other, and you’ve victimized a lot of girls since then,” she said, addressing Kelly. She later added: “Now it’s your turn to have your freedom taken from you.”
“No one can undo the harm that has been done to these victims,” attorney Gloria Allred, who represented three victims who testified, told reporters Wednesday outside court. “But at least it’s time for Mr. Kelly to be accountable.”
Defense attorneys and prosecutors argued Wednesday in court over whether Kelly even could pay a fine. The defense said he is “pretty close to indigent” and could not. Prosecutors disagreed, saying money from the sale of some of his music rights and millions of dollars in royalties held by Sony could cover any fine.
In the nine months since his conviction, Kelly has replaced his entire legal team with Bonjean and her firm. Bonjean is the attorney who helped Bill Cosby get his sexual assault conviction overturned and also represented Cosby in a civil case he lost this month at trial.
“We were prepared for it,” Bonjean said of the sentence outside the court. “We are now prepared to fight this appeal.”
Kelly is being held at a federal detention facility in Brooklyn and is expected to be moved back to Chicago, where he faces another federal trial in August on child pornography and obstruction charges.