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R. Kelly is sentenced to 30 years in prison

R&B singer R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Court Building following a hearing on June 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson
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R&B singer R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Court Building following a hearing on June 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

Updated June 29, 2022 at 4:49 PM ET

The disgraced R&B star R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison.

He was sentenced in New York by federal Judge Ann Donnelly, who spoke at length before issuing the sentence. At one point, she quoted a victim impact statement from a woman known in court as Stephanie, who told Kelly, "No price was too high for someone else to pay for your happiness."

"This case is not about sex," the judge said. "It is about violence, cruelty and control."

Donnelly acknowledged points made by defense, including that Kelly endured a very difficult childhood, with sexual abuse at the hands of his sister and a landlord. However, she added, "You are a person who had great advantages — worldwide fame and celebrity, untold money."

Kelly declined to address the court himself. His lawyer cited pending cases: a second federal trial in Illinois, slated to begin Aug. 15, and separate criminal charges in Minnesota. The charges include child pornography and obstruction of justice.

Kelly's conviction

Last year, Kelly was found guilty of charges including sexual exploitation of a child, racketeering, bribery and sex trafficking. The jury found the government proved Kelly was at the head of a criminal conspiracy to recruit and coerce girls, boys and women into sex.

During the weekslong trial, multiple victims established a pattern where they would see Kelly at a show or out in public, and an associate of Kelly would hand them a phone number to call. From there they would be ensnared in a system of sexual and psychological abuse. Kelly forced his victims to perform sexual acts for his gratification (which he often filmed). He set up strict rules dictating where his victims were allowed to go and who they were allowed to speak to. And he forced to them to write letters or video tape themselves claiming they were doing everything of their own free will.

Accusers spoke about how he hurt them

Before the judge announced Kelly's sentence, seven women made their own statements to and about him and about the abuse they suffered. At no point did Kelly look at his accusers.

A woman identified in court as Angela said, "We will be able to live again."

She said, "I am a representation of every woman, boy, child, man that you have ever afflicted with your deplorable, inexplicable acts, and with that I leave you with yourself, Robert Sylvester Kelly."

Another woman, known in court as Jane Doe 2, described enduring depression and stress related to Kelly's abuse. She paused in her comments to demand his attention when Kelly whispered to his attorney. "I'm sorry," she said. "I don't want to interrupt his conversation."

A man identified as Charles, the father of another woman, said in a resigned tone, "So many people love you and they hate us." He noted that Kelly hadn't expressed remorse. Charles urged Kelly to confess and to ask for God's forgiveness.

Kelly's defense lawyer promises an appeal

"Obviously he's devastated," Kelly's lawyer Jennifer Bonjean said outside the courthouse. "Thirty years in prison is like a life sentence for him, but at the same time we knew the government was asking for 25 years. We were prepared for what the judge might impose and we are now prepared to fight this appeal."

Victims were heard

After the sentencing hearing, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said the case meant the "voices of mostly Black and brown women and children ... were heard and believed, and for [them,] justice was finally achieved."

The sentencing comes after decades of allegations against the multi-platinum singer. In 2008, he stood trial in his hometown of Chicago for child pornography. He was acquittedof all charges.

From there, Kelly continued to live his life of superstardom, performing across the world and selling out venues.

In 2019, the TV docuseries Surviving R. Kelly renewed interest in the sexual abuse allegations against Kelly and gave a sustained push to the activists who had been pushing for Kelly to be pulled off airwaves and stages.

Jovante Cunningham, an accuser who had appeared in Surviving R. Kelly, said after the sentencing, "There wasn't a day in my life, up until this moment, that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for Black and brown girls. Thirty years did he do this, and 30 years is what he got."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
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