NEW YORK (AP) — Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for using his fame to sexually abuse young fans, some of whom were just children, in a of a systematic scheme that lasted for decades.
Through tears and anger, several of Kelly’s accusers told a New York court, and the singer himself, that he had misled them and attacked them.
“You made me do things that broke my spirits. I literally wished I died because of how low you made me feel,” an unnamed survivor said, speaking directly to Kelly , who kept her hands joined and her eyes lowered.
“Do you remember that?” she asked.
Kelly, 55, did not make a statement and showed no reaction upon hearing his punishment, which also included a $100,000 fine. He has denied any wrongdoing and plans to appeal his conviction.
The Grammy-winning and multi-platinum songwriter was found guilty last year of racketeering and sex trafficking in a trial that gave voice to accusers who had previously questioned whether their stories were being ignored because they were black women.
The victims “are no longer the prey we once were,” said another of his accusers during sentencing.
“There wasn’t a day in my life, up until this moment, when I actually believed the justice system would pass for black and brown girls,” she added in court.
A third woman, sobbing and sniffling as she addressed the court, also said Kelly’s sentencing had renewed her faith in the justice system.
The woman said Kelly victimized her after going to a concert when she was 17.
“I was scared, I was naive and I didn’t know how to handle the situation,” she said, so she didn’t speak at the time.
“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.”
Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said she was “devastated” by the sentencing and saddened by what he had heard.
“He’s a human being. He feels what other people feel. But that doesn’t mean he can accept responsibility the way the government would like him to and others would like him to. Because he disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him,” she said.
The sentence caps a slow-motion fall for Kelly, who is known for her work including the 1996 hit ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and the cult classic ‘Trapped in the Closet,’ a multi-part tale of betrayal and sexual intrigue.
He was adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums even after allegations of his abuse of young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.. He beat child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, when a jury acquitted him.
Widespread outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct didn’t surface until the #MeToo account, reaching a crescendo after the release of the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary.
“I hope this conviction will serve as testimony that no matter how powerful, rich or famous your abuser is or how small he makes you feel – justice hears only the truth,” the US attorney said Wednesday. of Brooklyn, Breon Peace.
A jury in Brooklyn federal court convicted the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, after hearing he used his entourage of managers and assistants to meet girls and keep them obedient, a move that prosecutors say amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverted and sadistic tantrums when they were underage.
The accusers alleged that they were ordered to sign non-disclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what were called the “rules of Rob”.
Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they revealed what was happening.
According to testimonies, Kelly gave herpes to several accusers without revealing he had an STD, coerced a teenager into joining him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from under a boxing ring in his garage and shot a shameful video that showed a victim smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking her rules.
“The horrors your victims endured,” U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly said in sentencing. “No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”
Lizzette Martinez was an aspiring 17-year-old singer when she met Kelly at a Florida mall. She was promised mentorship but soon ended up “a sex slave”, she said in court on Wednesday.
When asked if Kelly’s 30-year sentence was enough punishment, she paused before answering.
“I personally don’t think it’s enough,” she said, “but I’m happy with it.”
At trial, evidence was also presented regarding a fraudulent marriage scheme designed to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah. in 1994, when she was only 15 years old. Witnesses said they got married in matching tracksuits using a license that incorrectly stated she was 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’. She died in a plane crash in 2001 at the age of 22.
Kelly did not testify at his trial, but his lawyers at the time described his accusers as girlfriends and groupies who weren’t forced to do anything against their will and stayed with him because that they enjoyed the benefits of his lifestyle.
His current lawyers had argued that he should not get more than 10 years in prison because he had a traumatic childhood “involving severe and prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty and violence”.
As an adult with “literacy deficiencies”, the star was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him”, his lawyers said.
The Associated Press does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused unless they come forward publicly, as Martinez did. Several women who spoke during Kelly’s sentencing were only identified by first names or aliases.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since 2019. He still faces child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is due to begin Aug. 15.
Associated Press reporter Ted Shaffrey contributed to this report.
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