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R. Kelly Receives a 30-Year Prison Sentence for His Racketeering and Sex Trafficking Convictions

R. Kelly appears in an Illinois state courtroom in a 2019 file photo.

R. Kelly appears in an Illinois state courtroom in a 2019 file photo.

R&B singer R. Kelly, 55, was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 years in prison following his racketeering conviction last year for using a coterie of enablers to sexually abuse minors for decades.

When opening statements in his trial kicked off in August 2021, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez told jurors: “This case is about a predator.”

The government called some 45 witnesses over the course of the trial and submitted hundreds of exhibits to advance that case. Prosecutors argued that the “I Believe I Can Fly” crooner’s inner circle of business managers, security guards and bouncers, runners, lawyers, accountants, and assistants conspired to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, providing the backdrop to prosecute the case as a criminal enterprise.

“R. Kelly used his fame, fortune and enablers to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification, while many turned a blind eye,” Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney Breon Peace wrote in a statement. “Through his actions, Kelly exhibited a callous disregard for the devastation his crimes had on his victims and has shown no remorse for his conduct. With today’s sentence he has finally and appropriately been held accountable for his decades of abuse, exploitation and degradation of teenagers and other vulnerable young people.”

A backup singer for Kelly testifying under the pseudonym “Angela” reportedly testified during his trial that R. Kelly had sex with her in his apartment in 1991, when she was 14 or 15, according to BuzzFeed. “Angela” also told a jury that she walked in on Kelly performing oral sex on Aaliyah Dana Haughton, known as the “Princess of R&B.” Aaliyah would have been 13 at the time.

According to The New York Times, she delivered remarks directly at Kelly at his sentencing.

“With every addition of a new victim, you grew in wickedness,” Angela reportedly said. “You used your fame and power to groom and coach underage boys and girls for your own sexual gratification.”

Prosecutors said that Kelly married Aaliyah, bribing a government employee to get her a fake ID that falsely listed her age as 18, after she got pregnant but was still a minor. The marriage was later annulled, and Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001 at the age of 22.

Another witness, testifying under the pseudonym “Louis,” said he was an aspiring rapper when he met Kelly.

“When the defendant had Louis alone, he asked Louis, who had dreams of making it as a rapper, what Louis was willing to do to make it in the business, after which the defendant gave Louis, still just 17 years old, oral sex and video-recorded their sexual encounter,” the government’s sentencing memo states.

Prosecutors say that Kelly’s racketeering scheme involved bribery, production of child pornography, forced labor, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, and violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits interstate travel to engage in illicit sexual acts. The government asked for a sentence of more than 25 years in prison.

Kelly’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean, who helped Bill Cosby win his freedom on appeal, calculated the guidelines range between 14 and 17.5 years imprisonment and sought a sentence below that range.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly rejected Kelly’s bid for a new trial. Kelly claimed that his prior counsel was ineffective in selecting an unbiased jury, but Donnelly wasn’t persuaded.

“The record shows that the lawyer who conducted the voir dire—a lawyer with years of criminal trial experience in both state and federal courts—participated actively in the process,” Donnelly wrote. “Before the Court questioned the prospective jurors, counsel went through the questionnaires, and made decisions about which jurors were appropriate to question, and which to challenge for cause. Once the oral voir dire began, counsel demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the information in questionnaires, and frequently asked that the Court pose additional questions to prospective jurors.”

The Law&Crime Network’s Sierra Gillespie reported that Judge Donnelly told Kelly that he created a “trail of broken lives” and horrified even the “most seasoned investigators.”

Read the ruling rejecting Kelly’s bid for a new trial, below:

(R. Kelly via Antonio Perez – Pool via Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."