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

Kelly "preyed upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification” for decades, prosecutors have said.
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Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison, months after he was convicted on all nine counts in a high-profile sex trafficking case.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly handed down the sentence in Brooklyn, New York, after several of Kelly's victims angrily addressed him at the hearing.

Donnelly minced no words as she threw the book at once-beloved performer.

"You were a person who had great advantages — worldwide fame and celebrity and untold money," she said. "You took advantage of their hopes and dreams, holding teenagers in your house trapped. You were at the top of your organization, and you raped and beat them, separated them from their families and forced them to do unspeakable things."

Victims who addressed the court said they had barely any will to live during their time under Kelly's control.

"You degraded me, humiliated me and broke my spirit," said a woman who went by 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 Kelly "after you played basketball, in a car full of your friends."

"Do you remember that?!" she scolded Kelly, who was wearing olive-colored prison scrubs over a long-sleeve white shirt and wore a black mask. 

"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."

R Kelly Appears In Court in Chicago For Status Hearing
Singer R. Kelly at a hearing in Chicago in 2019.Antonio Perez / Pool via Getty Images

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 this month.Jane Doe No. 1, who cried as she addressed the court, 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."

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, the acting executive associate director for Homeland Security Investigations, Steve Francis, quoted R. Kelly's lyrics — "sometimes silence can seem so loud" — in praising the tenacity of victims and the judge's sentence.

"Thankfully these brave victims and true survivors will be heard forever, while Mr. R. Kelly will be left alone in a jail cell in silence for many, many years to come," Francis said. "It's comforting to now know that that only loud noise he'll hear every day is his prison cell door slamming shut behind him."

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

"He has contributed to society with music and his generosity, and he has people who love and support him," defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean said in court Wednesday.

"He maintains his innocence, and he is not calculating and cunning. Mob justice is in vogue, but this court must distinguish between boorish behavior and criminal."

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.

The convictions and Wednesday's sentence were also a watershed moment for women of color, who too often have not had their allegations taken seriously, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said.

"These are the voices of mostly Black and brown women and children that were heard and believed and for whom justice was finally achieved," Peace said.

The Grammy-winning Kelly, perhaps best known for the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” was considered one of the kings of R&B in the 1990s and the 2000s, and he 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, which featured testimony from several accusers, intensified calls for him to face legal consequences.

After 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.