R&B singer R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday (June 29), nine months after a New York jury found him guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking charges stemming from decades of abuse allegations. U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly announced the sentence at a federal court in Brooklyn after hearing statements from victims.
Kelly did not address the court.
Several of Kelly’s accusers attended the sentencing and were given the opportunity to speak directly to the singer, who sat quietly with his head down.
“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel,” one accuser said, according to the Associated Press. “Do you remember that?” Another victim said she was “afraid, naive and didn’t know how to handle the situation” when she was picked up by Kelly after a concert when she was 17. “Silence is a very lonely place,” she told the court.
Kelly’s defense team argued for the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer to receive the minimum sentence of 10 years or less, citing in court documents a “traumatic childhood involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.”
Prosecutors, however, sought a minimum 25-year term.
“[Kelly] continued his crimes and avoided punishment for them for almost 30 years and must now be held to account,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.
During the trial, eight Jane Does and two John Does — among over 40 witnesses brought by prosecutors — recounted sadistic and perverse experiences involving Kelly, now 55, as well as witnessing abuse inflicted on others. His previous employees and associates, many of which stood by as the incidents occurred, corroborated the testimonies of victims.
Prosecutors laid out how Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, used a network of employees to trade on his fame and wealth in order to “prey upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification,” they wrote in a court filing this month.
During the six-week trial, many of the accusers alleged they were coerced into signing nondisclosure agreements and subjected to violent punishment if they broke his rules. And given Kelly’s history of videotaping sex, they feared he would use those tapes as blackmail in order to keep them quiet.
Details of Kelly’s 1994 marriage to a then-underage Aaliyah were brought to the surface in court and used used to support the government’s case against Kelly for bribery. The jury was presented evidence that the singer falsified a license in order to marry Aaliyah when she was only 15 and he was 27. He was also accused of participating in bribing an official in order to facilitate the marriage, which was annulled months later. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
The verdict arrives just days after R. Kelly fan Christopher Gunn was charged with threatening three federal prosecutors in New York in connection to the verdict. Gunn, a Chicago native, was arrested on Saturday for making threats on social media involving serious bodily injury or death, according to a complaint. During a YouTube live stream documented in the complaint, Gunn said, “If Kellz goes down, everybody’s going down,” and threatened to “storm” the federal prosecutors’ offices, with references to a drive-by shooting. Gunn also made his way to Brooklyn to attend the Kelly trial last September.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since in 2019. He also faces child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.