R&B musician Robert Kelly, better known by his stage name R. Kelly, was sentenced to 30 years in prison today (June 29). The sentence comes after a six-week trial held in 2021 that found Kelly guilty on all nine counts of the verdict sheet. Those included one count of racketeering, three counts of transportation across state lines for illegal sexual activity, four counts of coercion and enticement and one count of transportation of a minor. To date, the District Court of the Eastern District of New York is the only jurisdiction to put Kelly on trial for the charges filed against the singer.
According to reports by The New York Times, seven women came forward to give victim impact statements in court prior to his sentencing. One of the victims recalled attending a concert in 1994 for the late singer Aaliyah and said Kelly assaulted her the same night. Kelly was illegally married to Aaliyah when she was only 15 years old, and her parents annulled the marriage several months later. Another victim, Lizzette Martinez, stood in front of Kelly and said the pair met in a mall in 1995 when she was 17. Kelly promised to mentor her but instead began to abuse her two months after they met. The final victim to come forward described how Kelly would have people watch and follow her for several years. All of the victims were essential in testifying against Kelly at his original trial.
The sentencing arrives shortly after Kelly’s defense lawyer motioned for an acquittal and new trial, which were submitted shortly after midnight on Tuesday. Judge Ann M. Donnelly denied the request, but Kelly’s lawyer still intends to appeal the decision, arguing that prosecutors misused the racketeering charge against him. Judge Donnelly said, “These crimes were calculated and carefully planned and regularly executed for almost 25 years,” and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
Kelly refused to make a statement.
After the sentencing, Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean addressed the press outside of the courthouse, saying, “He has regrets and he is sad.” She added that Kelly “disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him.” Bonjean previously represented Bill Cosby, persuading the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the actor’s sexual assault charge of assaulting Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home in 2004.
The trial is not the end of Kelly’s legal troubles. He is scheduled to stand trial again in his hometown of Chicago in August, where he faces charges of producing child pornography and sexually abusing minors. The indictment alleges that one man was bribed with thousands of dollars in 2008 to cancel a news conference where he would have announced that he possessed evidence of Kelly’s illegal sexual behavior. Kelly also faces similar charges in Minnesota and Illinois.
Kelly is no stranger to these accusations, which began in 1996 when Tiffany Hawkins filed a civil suit that alleges the singer, in addition to abusing her, convinced her to recruit her high school friends to engage in group sex with him. She was 15 when the abuse began. In 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the police attempted to investigate similar claims, but dropped the investigations due to the accusers not cooperating. Two years later, the Chicago Sun-Times received a tape from an unknown source that showed Kelly engaging in these acts with another underage victim. The main talking point of the tape, Kelly urinating on the victim, has become an often used reference in pop culture. Six years after the tape began circulating, Kelly was found not guilty on all 14 counts of child pornography. According to The New York Times, Kelly was invited to perform with children at a local church the same day he pleaded not guilty to the child pornography charges.
It hasn’t been until recently that Kelly began to face pressure for his crimes. In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that concerned parents reported their children being held against their will in a sex cult. Former collaborators expressed regret and Spotify announced they would stop promoting Kelly’s music, which faced a lot of pushback from artists, including Kendrick Lamar. Shortly after, Kelly released a 19-minute long song titled “I Admit” on his Soundcloud which, contrary to the title, did not feature a confession. Everything came to a head in 2019 when Lifetime aired Surviving R. Kelly which featured interviews with his victims. Several victims, including the aforementioned Lizzette Martinez, testified against Kelly in the trial leading up to his sentencing. Around the time of the documentary airing, prosecutors and law enforcement brought charges against the singer. Kelly was arrested on July 11, 2019 and was held in Chicago until June 23, 2021, when he was transferred to a detention center in Brooklyn.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact RAINN via chat or their phone number 800-656-4673 for support and resources.