A federal judge in Chicago on Thursday sentenced R. Kelly to 20 years in prison for his convictions of child pornography and the enticement of minors for sex. However, he will serve most of that sentence simultaneously with a 30-year sentence imposed last year on racketeering and sex trafficking charges. In a major victory for the defense, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that the 56-year-old singer will only have to serve one more year after he completes his three-decade term in New York.
A week ago, federal prosecutors requested that Kelly – whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly – get a new sentence of 25 years to be served after he fully completes his 30-year term in New York. In their sentencing recommendation to the U.S. District Court in Chicago, prosecutors described Kelly’s behavior as “sadistic,” calling him “a serial sexual predator” with no remorse and who “poses a serious danger to society.” “The only way to ensure Kelly does not reoffend is to impose a sentence that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life,” they argued.
The singer’s defense, however, wanted a sentence of around 10 years, at the low end of the sentencing guidelines range, to be served simultaneously with the New York one. His lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said Thursday that Kelly will be lucky to survive his 30-year New York sentence alone. To give him a consecutive 25-year sentence on top of that “is overkill, it is symbolic,” she said. “Why? Because it is R. Kelly.”
In addition, in the defense’s sentencing recommendation, Bonjean accused the prosecution and “society at large” of singling out Kelly, who is Black for behaviors that his “white counterparts” have gotten away with. “None have been prosecuted and none will die in prison,” she wrote. Kelly’s legal team is appealing his New York and Chicago convictions.
At a trial in Chicago in September of last year, jurors convicted the Grammy Award-winning singer on six of 13 counts. He was found guilty of three child pornography counts and three counts of enticing minors for sex, but acquitted of seven other charges that included obstruction of justice and conspiracy to receive child pornography. In Chicago, Kelly’s home state, a conviction of just one count of child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. His conviction was seen as a significant milestone for the #MeToo movement in the United States.
The accusations against Kelly date back to the early 2000s. In 2002, Chicago music journalist Jim DeRogatis, of the Chicago Sun-Times, reported having received an anonymous videotape allegedly showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old. The paper also reported that Chicago police began investigating allegations about Kelly and the same girl three years earlier. At the time, the girl and her parents denied that she was having sex with Kelly and that she was the girl in the videotape. A year later, Kelly was indicted in Chicago on child pornography charges related to the sex tape. However, when the case went to trial in 2008, the singer was acquitted.
But the victim – known by the pseudonym Jane – had been in a relationship with the artist for years. She decided to speak out after watching the Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which aired in 2019 and included testimony from several women who accused the singer of abuse dating back to the 1990s. She took the stand at the Chicago trial last year and said publicly for the first time that she was the girl in the sex tape. She said she was 14 in the video and that the man was Kelly, who would have been around 30 then. She admitted that she lied when the tape became known because she was “ashamed”: “I also did not want that person to be me.”
Kelly was one of the biggest R&B stars of the 1990s, best known for the song I Believe I Can Fly. But despite his fame, it was common at that time to spot him at a McDonald’s in Chicago, where he lured students from a nearby secondary school. Jane was one of those girls. She was a member of a musical group, and met Kelly when she was in high school. She visited his recording studio with an aunt, who was a professional singer. Shortly after that meeting, Jane told her parents that Kelly was going to be her godfather. When her parents learned of the sex video, Kelly knelt before them and begged them for forgiveness, according to Jane’s testimony. She implored her parents not to take action against the musician because she “loved” him.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition