R. Kelly was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in prison for child pornography and enticement of minors for sex but will serve all but one of those simultaneously with a separate 30-year sentence on racketeering and sex trafficking convictions.
The sentence means Kelly could leave prison alive, when he’s about 80. Prosecutors had asked Judge Harry Leinenweber to sentence the 56-year-old Grammy Award winner to 25 years and have him start serving them only after he completed his earlier sentence. That would have been tantamount to sending him to prison for life.
They argued that the stiffer punishment was justified by the seriousness of the crimes and what they said was Kelly’s lack of remorse.
Kelly remained still and impassive, his eyes downcast, when the judge issued his sentence in a Chicago federal courtroom. His composure slipped slightly, however, when a representative read a statement written by “Jane,” a key prosecution witness.
“I was brainwashed by Robert and a sex slave,” Jane’s statement said. “It almost killed me.”
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said she was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“It’s the right outcome,” she told reporters following the hearing. “The judge was reasonable. He, I think, took into account both sides and ultimately was fair.”
Leinenweber said at the outset of the hearing that he did not accept the government’s contention that Kelly used fear to woo underage girls for sex.
“The (government’s) whole theory of grooming, was sort of the opposite of fear of bodily harm,” the judge told the court. “It was the fear of lost love, lost affections (from Kelly)’. … It just doesn’t seem to me that it rises to the fear of bodily harm.”
Leinenweber ordered that Kelly serve one year in prison following the racketeering sentence, imposed last year in New York.
A calm Kelly spoke only briefly at the start of the hearing, when the judge asked him if he had reviewed key presentencing documents for any inaccuracies.
“Your honor, I have gone over it with my attorney,” Kelly said. “I’m just relying on my attorney for that.”
Two of Kelly’s accusers asked the judge to punish him harshly.
In a statement read aloud in court, Jane said she had lost her early aspirations to become a singer herself and her hopes for fulfilling relationships.
“I have lost my dreams to Robert Kelly,” the statement said. “I will never get back what I lost to Robert Kelly. … “I have been permanently scarred by Robert.”
The woman was a key witness for prosecutors during Kelly’s trial; four of his convictions are tied to her.
“When your virginity is taken by a pedophile at 14 … your life is never your own,” Jane’s statement read.
Another accuser, who used the pseudonym “Nia,” attended the hearing and addressed Kelly directly in court. Speaking forcefully as her voice quivered, Nia said Kelly would repeatedly pick at her supposed faults while he abused her.
“Now you are here … because there is something wrong with you,” she said. “No longer will you be able to harm children.”
Jurors in Chicago convicted Kelly last year on six of 13 counts: three of producing child porn and three of enticement of minors for sex. Prosecutors did not get a conviction on the marquee charge: that Kelly and his then-business manager successfully rigged his state child pornography trial in 2008.
Kelly rose from poverty in Chicago to become one of the world’s biggest R&B stars. Known for his smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and for sex-infused songs such as “Bump n’ Grind,” he sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.
In presentencing filings, prosecutors described Kelly as “a serial sexual predator” who used his fame and wealth to reel in, sexually abuse and then discard star-struck fans.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Jeannice Appenteng on Thursday urged the judge to keep Kelly in prison “for the rest of his life.”
Kelly’s abuse of children was all the worse, she said, because he “memorialized” his abuse by filming victims, including Jane. She told the court Kelly “used Jane as a sex prop, a thing” for producing pornographic videos.
In prehearing filings, however, Bonjean accused prosecutors of offering an “embellished narrative” to get the judge to join what she called the government’s “bloodthirsty campaign to make Kelly a symbol of the #MeToo movement.”
Bonjean said Kelly has suffered enough, including financially. She said his worth once approached $1 billion, but that he “is now destitute.”
She also remarked 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.”
And she stressed that Kelly’s silence in the courtroom should not be viewed as a lack of remorse.
She said Kelly “very much” wanted to speak but she advised him not to because he continues to appeal his convictions and could face other legal action.