Disgraced music star R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison today (June 29) in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn after being found guilty last September on nine counts of racketeering and sex trafficking. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence “in excess of 25 years” for Kelly, who they said oversaw a years-long scheme to recruit underage girls and boys for sex. Kelly, 55, has been jailed in the Metropolitan Detention Center since the original verdict.
“These crimes were calculated and carefully planned and regularly executed for almost 25 years,” Judge Ann M. Donnelly said during sentencing. “You taught them that love is enslavement and violence.”
At trial, a number of accusers described in graphic detail their abuse at the hands of Kelly, with some of the accusations going back nearly 30 years. According to The New York Times, one victim, an adult woman named Angela, spoke during the victim impact statement portion of today’s sentencing and said to Kelly, “with every addition of a new victim, you grew in wickedness. You used your fame and power to groom and coach underage boys and girls for your own sexual gratification.”
Legal scrutiny of Kelly’s activities was revived following the 2019 docu-series Surviving R. Kelly, which detailed numerous sexual abuse accusations from several victims who came forward to tell their stories for the first time. One of them, Lizette Martinez, also spoke at this morning’s hearing. “I do not know how to put a price on all I’ve gone through,” she said. “I am now 45, a mother and I struggle with mental health.”
Kelly, who was illegally married to a then-15-year-old Aaliyah in 1994, has dodged accusations of having sex with underage girls for decades. In 2002, he was indicted in Chicago on child pornography charges, but was acquitted at trial in 2008. A 2017 Buzzfeed report prompted the latest round of criminal charges, as it described how Kelly recruited young women into his orbit, banned them from communicating with their family and friends, controlled what they wore and ate and recorded sexual encounters with them.
In their sentencing letter, federal prosecutors said Kelly has “exhibited a callous disregard” for the impact of his actions, which they said were “fueled by narcissism and a belief that his musical talent absolved him of any need to conform his conduct” to the law. They said Kelly “continues to avoid any acknowledgment of the seriousness of his conduct or the harm that he caused.”
Kelly’s attorneys in turn decried how prosecutors had made Kelly out to be “a one-dimensional villain, undeserving of any measure of humanity or dignity” in their own sentencing letter, pointing to a “traumatic childhood” blighted by a “severe history of sexual abuse” by family members.
On the heels of today’s sentencing, Kelly could face additional prison time in another case. He’s due to stand trial again in Chicago starting Aug. 15 on federal child pornography and other sex-related charges.
Kelly was once one of the most popular artists in music and has sold a reported 75 million albums worldwide. He has not put out an album since 12 Nights of Christmas in 2016 and was dropped by longtime label RCA and Universal Music Publishing following the release of Surviving R. Kelly.