NEW YORK — Disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, who for decades preyed on his fans through psychological and sexual abuse, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison.
The 55-year-old multiplatinum-selling artist, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, had faced up to a life sentence. He was convicted last September of nine racketeering counts for a decadeslong sex abuse scheme targeting young female fans, some of whom were minors, as well as boys.
Prosecutors had asked federal Judge Ann Donnelly to sentence him to 25 years. His lawyers sought a sentence of 10 years, writing that he was a victim of severe childhood sexual abuse. In his sentencing submission, attorney Jennifer Bonjean wrote Kelly was “not an evil monster” but “a complex (unquestionably flawed) human-being” whose trauma shaped his adulthood.
Before the sentence was imposed, Kelly’s victims delivered withering statements in court, often directly addressing the singer.
“You are an abuser. You are shameless. You are disgusting, and you are self-serving. I hope you go to jail for the rest of your life,” said Stephanie, the third woman to testify at Kelly’s trial, who said she was a teenager when he began abusing her.
“You were a 31-year-old pedophile ready to ruin another young lady’s life,” she said.
Through tears, Kitti Jones told the court of living with Kelly from 2011 to 2013, during a dark period of her young life beset by “humilaition, sexual abuse, physical abuse” and “severe weight loss due to punishment of days going without food.”
“I have never gone back to being the social butterfly I once was,” Jones said.
Trial evidence showed how the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer and members of his entourage targeted victims at his sold-out concerts, shopping malls, and even a McDonald’s in Chicago. Jurors heard of a depraved universe behind the imposing gates of Kelly’s mansion in the Chicago suburbs governed by “Rob’s Rules.”
More than 40 witnesses and 11 accusers took the stand during the nearly month-long trial. The jury heard how Kelly beat girls and women with shoes, cords or fists and delivered vicious spankings that left bruises when they broke his rules. The singer referred to his spankings as “chastisements,” accusers testified.
One accuser testified that R. Kelly compared himself to musician Jerry Lee Lewis — who notoriously married his 13-year-old cousin in the 1950s — and said there was nothing wrong with wanting to have sex with underage girls.
If Kelly thought his victims were looking at other men, lying to him, or caught them texting people without his approval, he would punish them. He forced the women to call him “Daddy” and made them wear baggy clothes when out in public. Sometimes he locked them in rooms for days, the women claimed.
A cohort of die-hard fans attended the trial. One of them, Christopher “DeBoSki Gunn” Gunn, was indicted Monday for threatening the Brooklyn federal prosecutors who secured his conviction. There were relatively few outside the courthouse Wednesday.
The sentence will mark Kelly getting his comeuppance nearly 30 years after he first faced allegations of sleeping with underage girls in the 1990s. In the same decade, he married the late R&B singer Aaliyah when he was 27 and she was 15. Their unlawful union was only made official thanks to a government worker who took a $500 bribe in exchange for a fake ID stating Aaliyah was 18 years old.
Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah was at the center of the government’s case.
In 2008, Kelly beat child pornography charges. Witnesses testified that during that previous trial, Kelly’s employees asked teens in attendance if they wanted to party with the singer.
The January 2019 Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” thrust sex abuse allegations back into the spotlight amid the #MeToo movement. Chicago prosecutors indicted him a month later. He has yet to face trial in his hometown.