Following weeks of graphic and emotional testimony, R.Kelly was convicted in September on all counts in his New York sex trafficking trialand Wednesday a judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
“To the victims in this case, your voices were heard and justice was finally served,” acting US Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis said outside the Brooklyn courthouse when a jury convicted the 54-year-old R&B star on nine counts of sex trafficking and racketeering.
US District Judge Ann Donnelly imposed the sentence Wednesday at a federal court in Brooklyn after hearing statements from victims.
Prosecutors sought a minimum 25-year term, while the defense said a sentence of 10 years or less is all he deserves.
“He’s strong, and we are going to get through this,” defense lawyer Jennifer Bonjean said on her way into court. Whatever his sentence, Kelly is hopeful his conviction will be overturned on appeal, she said.
What’s next for Kelly, who faces even more charges in other federal and state cases in Illinois and Minnesota?
And what does the sentence mean for the #MeToo movement, which helped shine a light on decades of abuse allegations against Kelly?
What is R. Kelly’s sentence?
Kelly, who has been behind bars since his arrest in July 2019, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday.
The singer faced the possibility of decades in prison for crimes including violating the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking law that prohibits taking anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
Earlier in June, prosecutors submitted a memo stating that the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer should serve at least 25 years in prison, saying Kelly used his “fame, money and popularity” to systematically “prey upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification. ”
Among multiple sordid allegations, jurors heard testimony about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age ace 18; he was 27 at the time.
The competing defense memo suggested prosecutors’ arguments for a higher sentence overreached by falsely claiming Kelly participated in the bribery of “a public aid officer to produce an identification card” that allowed the sham marriage between him and the late singer Aaliyah to go forward.
What does the verdict mean for R. Kelly’s other trials?
The New York case is only part of the legal profile facing Kelly.
The singer has also pleaded not guilty to similar charges in Illinois and Minnesota, and it is not yet clear how the verdict and sentencing in Brooklyn will affect those cases. The trial in Illinois is expected to begin on August 15.
“All parties, except Kelly, want a quick trial date,” Michael Irving Leonard, Kelly’s former attorney said at the time of the verdict of the singer’s other pending trials.
But Lynn Hecht Schafran, legal director of Legal Momentum, a longstanding legal advocacy organization for women, said the verdict and sentencing doesn’t mean other state and federal prosecutions pending against Kelly will not or should not go forward.
“Every victim deserves to have their voice heard and justice served in their individual case,” she told USA TODAY.
Besides, there’s tremendous political pressure to pursue sex-abuse cases, among the most underreported and underprosecuted crimes in the country, says former federal prosecutor-turned-Los Angeles civil attorney Neama Rahmaniwho’s been following the Kelly case.
“So when you tell victims R. Kelly is not going to see justice for acts he committed against (them), it’s not going to fly both with the public at large and with the victims,” Rahmani says.
What does R. Kelly’s sentencing mean for #MeToo?
According to advocates for sexual assault survivors, Kelly’s conviction may offer hope to those who come forward with allegations, including women of color who may fear their accusations will be minimized or ignored.
“We hope that today’s verdict empowers survivors everywhere to feel that they are not alone,” Erinn Robinson, press secretary for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network said after Kelly was convicted.
For years, the public and news media seemed to be more amused than horrified by allegations against the singer of inappropriate relationships with minors, starting with Kelly’s illegal marriage to the R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15.
His records and concert tickets kept selling. Other artists continued to record his songs by him, even after he was arrested in 2002 and accused of making a recording of himself sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl. He was acquitted in that case in 2008.
Widespread public condemnation didn’t come until a widely watched docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” helped make his case a signifier of the #MeToo era, and gave voice to accusers who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.
Within months of the series being shown on TV in 2019, Kelly was under arrest.
“I don’t think TV producers should be deciding who gets prosecuted in this country, but we are dealing with limited government resources and these are the political realities we need to acknowledge,” Rahmani said. “It’s a new world we’re living in.”
Schafran called the verdict a “step toward justice” and a possible signal that society “has reached a new stage of unwillingness to ignore the harm” Kelly and others have caused many young lives.
“The next stage is to hold the enablers accountable – Kelly did not hold all these young women in thrall, nor avoid accountability for his actions, by himself,” she said.
Contributing: Tom Hays, Larry Neumeister, Associated Press; Elise Brisco Cydney Henderson, Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org/online and receive confidential support.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism