R. Kelly, the former R&B singer who had long evaded criminal penalties despite decades of sexual misconduct allegations, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday for sex trafficking and racketeering.
The sentencing in Brooklyn marks the culmination of a staggering fall for Mr Kelly, 55, from a superstar hitmaker who was known as the King of R&B, to a shunned artist whose musical legacy has become inextricable from his abuse .
The chart-topping artist was one of the most successful American musicians of the 1990s and 2000s, known for hits like “I Believe I Can Fly.” But as his public image skyrocketed, he exploited his vast access to young fans and aspiring artists at concerts, luring them into sex regardless of their age.
The multi-platinum singer was found guilty of nine counts of racketeering and other crimes in September, after his federal trial in New York shed light on how he used enablers and sycophants to entrap fans and budding artists while controlling their lives.
The case was widely seen as a milestone for the #MeToo movement, representing the first high-profile trial since the national reckoning around sexual misconduct to feature a powerful man whose victims were primarily black women.
Before the sentence was read, Judge Donnelly listened to several accusers make startling victim impact statements, detailing how their lives were ruined by the singer.
The accounts added to the testimony at trial of 11 accusers – nine women and two men – who often told jurors that Mr Kelly had inflicted serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Several testified that they were underage when he first had sex with them.
Mr Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, had argued that the Government’s understanding of the appropriate sentencing range was flawed – and had asked for a sentence of less than 10 years. But Judge Donnelly ultimately agreed with prosecutors, who asked for a sentence “over 25 years”.
Federal prosecutors wrote in their sentencing letter that Mr Kelly had shown no remorse and for decades “exhibited callous disregard” for the effects of his abuse on victims. His actions appeared to have been “fueled by narcissism and the belief that his musical talent absolved him of any need to comply” with the law, they wrote in their argument for his sentence.
“He committed these crimes using both his fame and celebrity as a shield, which prevented scrutiny or condemnation of his actions,” prosecutors wrote. “And a sword, which gave him access to wealth and a network of enablers to facilitate his crimes, and an adoring fanbase from which to eliminate his victims.”
Mr Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was first accused of having sex with underage girls in the 1990s, and his illegal marriage to singer Aaliyah in 1994, who was 15 years at the time, sparked questions about his behavior. A few years later, in 2002, Mr Kelly was charged with child pornography, but was acquitted in 2008 at a trial in Chicago.
It wasn’t until the #MeToo movement renewed scrutiny of his conduct that a new wave of charges came – and a conviction ultimately stalled in New York.
In her sentencing letter, which was unsealed on Tuesday, Ms Bonjean, Mr Kelly’s lawyer, told the judge that prosecutors had portrayed her client ‘as a one-dimensional villain, deserving no measure of humanity or dignity ” and that “there is much more to the picture.
She said her “traumatic childhood”, which includes “a serious history of sexual abuse” by relatives and others, warrants a lenient sentence. Mr Kelly said in a 2016 interview with GQ that he had been sexually abused growing up.
“He is not an evil monster, but a complex (undoubtedly flawed) human being who faced overwhelming challenges in childhood that shaped his adult life,” Ms Bonjean wrote.
At trial, Mr Kelly’s lawyers sought to portray his accusers as obsessive fans and opportunists seeking financial gain. But the jury ultimately believed the prosecution.
“The defendant’s victims are not groupies or gold diggers. They are human beings,” Nadia Shihata, an assistant U.S. attorney, said at the end of the trial. “Daughters, sisters, some are now mothers. And their lives matter.