“You degraded me, humiliated me and broke my spirit,” said a woman, who went by Jane Doe No. 2. “I wished I would die because of how you degraded me.”
Those were the words of one of the victims of the world-famous R&B superstar, R. Kelly, who has been sentenced on Wednesday to 30 years in prison, months after he was convicted on all nine counts against him in a high-profile sex trafficking case. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnelly handed down the sentence in a Brooklyn courtroom after several of Kelly’s victims angrily addressed the convicted sex offender at the hearing.
Donnelly minced no words as she threw the book at the once-beloved performer.
In her words; “You were a person who had great advantages — worldwide fame and celebrity and untold money,” she said. “You took advantage of their hopes and dreams, holding teenagers in your house trapped. You were at the top of your organization and you raped and beat them, separated them from their families and forced them to do unspeakable things.”
Some of the victims who addressed the court on Wednesday said they barely had any will to live during their time under Kelly’s control and influence. You degraded me, humiliated me and broke my spirit,” said a woman, who went by Jane Doe No. 2. “I wished I would die because of how you degraded me.”
The victim recalled an incident when she was forced to perform oral sex on the music star “after you played basketball, in a car full of your friends.”
“Do you remember that?!”
she scolded Kelly, wearing olive-coloured prison scrubs over a long-sleeve white shirt and a black mask. You couldn’t care less. I avoided your name and your songs and suffocated with fear. What you did left a permanent stain on my life.
“You are an abuser, shameless, disgusting,” she added. “I hope you go to jail for the rest of your life. I feel sorry for you.”
Kelly, 55, was convicted in September of racketeering and violating the Mann Act, the law that bans transporting people across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
He was found guilty in racketeering and sex trafficking trials. The sentence was more than the 25 years federal prosecutors had sought in a letter to Donnelly earlier this month. Jane Doe No. 1 cried as she addressed the court and said she spent years believing Kelly would never face justice.
“I know there are fans of R. Kelly who don’t believe us,” said the woman, who was 17 when she first met Kelly at a concert in September of 1994. I once lost hope in our justice system but you restored my faith. It’s a constant battle and I no longer live in silence. It is inhumane to endure sexual assault, and sex trafficking, it is modern day slavery in plain sight.”
Outside the courthouse on Wednesday, acting Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations, Steve Francis, quoted R. Kelly’s lyrics — “sometimes silence can seem so loud” — in praising the tenacity of victims and the judge’s sentence.
“Thankfully these brave victims and true survivors will be heard forever, while Mr R. Kelly will be left alone in a jail cell in silence for many years to come,” Francis said. “It’s comforting to now know that the only loud noise he’ll hear every day is his prison cell door slamming shut behind him.”
Kelly’s attorneys argued in a separate memo that a sentence of more than 10 years would be “greater than necessary.
“He has contributed to society with music and his generosity and he has people who love and support him,” defence attorney Jennifer Bonjean said in court on Wednesday. He maintains his innocence and he is not calculating and cunning. Mob justice is in vogue, but this court must distinguish between boorish behaviour and criminal.”
During the trial, which centered on the allegations of six people, prosecutors said Kelly was a serial sexual predator who abused young women, as well as underage girls and boys, for more than two decades. Prosecutors alleged that he and his entourage led a criminal enterprise that recruited and groomed victims for sex, arranging for them to travel to concerts and events across the U.S. Kelly was also accused of confining victims in hotel rooms or his recording studio, managing when they could eat and use the bathroom and forcing them to follow various “rules,” including demanding that they call him “Daddy.”
Why applying federal racketeering charges in the R. Kelly sex trafficking case was so complex. Attorneys for the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, tried to portray his accusers as “groupies” who sought to exploit his fame and take advantage of the #MeToo movement. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and did not take the stand in his own defence. The convictions and Wednesday’s sentence were also a watershed moment for women of colour, who too often have not had their allegations taken seriously, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said.
“These are the voices of mostly black and brown women and children that were heard, and believed, and for whom justice was finally achieved,” Peace said.
The Grammy-winning Kelly, perhaps best known for the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” was considered one of the kings of R&B in the 1990s and 2000s and was widely credited with helping to redefine the genre. But the rise of #MeToo helped lead to greater scrutiny of his behaviour behind the scenes.
“Surviving R. Kelly,” a Lifetime documentary series released in 2019 that featured testimony from several accusers, intensified calls for him to face legal consequences.
Meanwhile, following his sentencing, Kelly is scheduled to stand trial in August in Chicago on federal child pornography and obstruction of justice charges. He was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography charges.