By Terrance Turner
Sept. 26, 2021 (updated June 29, 2022)
Singer R. Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison on sex trafficking and racketeering charges. US District Court Judge Ann Donnelly read the verdict aloud today in federal court. Before the sentence was read, Judge Donnelly listened to several accusers deliver vivid victim impact statements, detailing the ways their lives were marred by the singer.
According to the New York Times, “The accounts added to the trial testimony of 11 accusers — nine women and two men — who often told jurors that Mr. Kelly had inflicted severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Several testified that they were minors when he first had sex with them.”
“You left in your wake a trail of broken lives,” Donnelly told Kelly, according to CNN.
The singer was found guilty of all charges last year, after a federal trial in New York. Kelly was convicted on nine counts: eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting a minor across state lines for sex or “any other immoral purpose,” and one count of racketeering, which 14 underlying acts, including kidnapping, bribery, sexual exploitation of a child, and sex trafficking. According to CNN, a jury found the prosecutors had proven all but 2 of the 14 underlying acts.
The New York Times reports that the jury of seven men and five women deliberated for nine hours before reaching a verdict. Kelly sat motionless as the verdict was read, according to the Times. His sentencing was scheduled for May 4. Kelly faced a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
The verdict concluded a sweeping saga that began in July 2019, when prosecutors in New York City unveiled a 5-count indictment. It comprised one count of racketeering and four counts of violating the Mann Act. It accused Kelly of a racketeering enterprise that lured young women and girls (and even young boys) to him so he could use them sexually. (Racketeering is a genre of organized crime in which one participates in an illegal scheme.)
“As alleged, R. Kelly, together with employees and members of his entourage, engaged in a racketeering enterprise that preyed upon women and girls who attended his concerts so that the victims could be available to engage in illegal sexual activity with him at a moment’s notice,” stated United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue.
The initial indictment revealed a sordid pattern of behavior that was both organized and exploitative. Between 1999 and the present, Kelly was accused of coercing a minor (“Jane Doe 1”) to engage in sexually explicit conduct (“Act 1”). Between 2003 and 2004, Kelly (and others) secretly confined “Jane Doe 2” against her will (“Act 2”) and transported her within interstate commerce (“Act 3”) with the intent of illegal sexual activity (including aggravated sexual abuse).
Acts 4-6 pertained to “Jane Doe #3”, including allegations of forced labor and sexual exploitation of a child. Act 8 stands out, alleging that Kelly, in Oct. 2015, coerced and then transported “Jane Doe #4” through interstate commerce with intent of sex crimes: “to wit: violations of California Penal law Section 261.5(a) (rape, abduction, carnal abuse of a child and seduction) in violation of Title 18”, the indictment said.
In March 2020, prosecutors added superseding indictments. They added five additional counts of racketeering and four more violations of the Mann Act, according to the Washington Post. NPR adds that in this new indictment, “the prosecutors newly allege[d] that in 2015, Kelly had sex with a girl under the age of 18, and that he gave her herpes without disclosing that he had the disease.”
Trial began on Aug. 18. There were 50 witnesses, according to CNN, including 45 (!) prosecution witnesses. Kelly’s tour manager, Demetrius Smith, testified that he bribed a worker at a Chicago federal welfare office in 1994 to get a welfare ID for the late singer Aaliyah. Generally, one must be 18 in order to receive such an ID. Aaliyah was 15 at the time.
According to Smith, Kelly believed that Aaliyah was pregnant, so he ordered Smith to book him a flight home to Chicago. Smith paid the official to make the ID ahead of the Aug. 1994 wedding. “I gave her $500,” Smith admitted in court. Smith paid the woman to make Aaliyah a fake ID so she could marry Kelly without her parents’ permission. The two were married by a minister in a hotel room that night before Kelly and his crew returned to Orlando, Smith said. The marriage was later annulled in 1995.
A day after Smith’s testimony, a woman identified as “Jane” testified that Kelly, who maintained strict control over the lives of his partners, once took her and his other “girlfriends” to a park and told them they could ask him whatever they wanted. She said that most of the questions focused on Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah. Jane said Kelly told them he married Aaliyah was because he believed she was pregnant, and because she was underage only her spouse or parents could approve an abortion.
The same woman testified that Kelly pressured her to have an abortion in 2017. She met Kelly in 2015, when she was a junior in high school and he was nearing 50. She was an aspiring singer and wanted to audition for Kelly. At her audition, he pressured her to have sex. She eventually gave in, and the two became involved.
According to NPR, Jane also said that she was frequently forced to have sexual encounters with other women — including Kelly’s other girlfriends and women who worked for the singer — against her will, and all at Kelly’s express direction. She said that Kelly videotaped the sexual encounters she had with him and with other people.
In a text message submitted as evidence, Kelly allegedly wrote to “Jane”: “I want to groom you and be bonded with you one hundred percent.”
That meant exclusive devotion and obedience. Jane had to follow certain rules, she said: she wasn’t allowed to speak to other men, or to leave rooms without his permission. Kelly once flew into a rage because she texted her friend about him. She said he took his size-12 sneaker and beat her with it. She tried to fight back, but was only 4’11” and 98 pounds. (Kelly is 6’1″ and weighs about 200 lb.) Kelly also gave her herpes, she said, and smeared her face with human waste as punishment.
Jerhonda Pace also testified that Kelly gave her herpes. He never told her that he had an STD, she said. But Dr. Kris McGrath, the singer’s doctor of about 25 years, testified that between 2007 and 2019, Mr. Kelly was treated for herpes at least five times, often with yearlong prescriptions at a local Walgreens.
“It was so often that I had memorized the phone number to that Walgreens,” Dr. McGrath told jurors, before rattling off the 10 digits.
But Pace also testified that Kelly had choked and hit her. She was asked by a prosecutor to read aloud a journal entry. She cried as she read the entry dated January 23, 2010: “I went to Rob’s house and Rob called me a silly b—. Rob slapped me three times. He said if I lied to him again, it’s not going to be an open hand next time. He spit in my face and in my mouth and choked me during an argument. I had sex with him, I had oral sex with him. Then I became fed up, and I went home and confessed.”
Elizabeth Geddes, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, showed phone records as evidence of communication between Kelly and Pace on the day of the diary entry, according to CBS News.