Watch CBS News

R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in prison in New York sex trafficking case

R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years behind bars in N.Y. federal case 02:45

CHICAGO (CBS)-- Disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison, after he was convicted last year of racketeering and sex trafficking charges in New York.

"Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this is not a case about sex. It's a case about violence, cruelty and control," U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly told him as she handed down his sentence.  

Kelly also faces five years of supervised release after he completes his prison sentence, and has been fined $100,000.

"Obviously he is devastated; 30 years is like a life sentence for him," defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean said.

Federal prosecutors in New York had asked a judge to sentence Kelly to at least 25 years behind bars, for running a criminal enterprise to sexually exploit young women and children. 

"R. Kelly preyed upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification for decades," U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. 

Kelly's defense team was seeking the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, arguing he had a traumatic childhood "involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence."

Bonjean argued that the government's understanding of the appropriate sentencing range was flawed.

"There was no enterprise. There was no enterprise. It was one man with allegations by a number of women, which doesn't make it an enterprise. And that is why he is not guilty of racketeering," Bonjean told reporters.

R. Kelly gets 30 years in prison for sex trafficking conviction in New York 02:34

Bonjean said she's confident Kelly's conviction will be thrown out on appeal.

The "I Believe I Can Fly" singer's misconduct received a new round of scrutiny after a docuseries aired in 2019 called "Surviving R. Kelly," in which accusers spoke candidly about their experiences with him. Some alleged they were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms, and were subjected to threats and violence.

Kelly has been jailed without bail since 2019. He is still facing child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago. That trial is scheduled to begin on Aug. 15.

Legal expert Rachel Cannon said the lengthy prison sentence for Kelly could prompt a possible plea deal in Kelly's other cases.

"Sometimes when defendants receive lengthy sentences in one case, they want to try and resolve other cases by way of a guilty plea," she said. "There's often an incentive for defendants in criminal cases charged in different locations to plead guilty, because it does give them some sort of certainty or predictability as to the outcome."

Cannon said, if Kelly is convicted in his federal trial in Chicago, he could face a minimum sentence of 15 to 25 years.

Through tears and anger, R. Kelly's accusers told a court Wednesday he had preyed on them and misled his fans, while the fallen R&B star awaited sentencing on his federal sex trafficking conviction.

"You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel," one woman told the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer. She said she was forever traumatized by her teenage experience with him.

"Do you remember that?" she asked.

During Wednesday's court proceedings, victims took the stand, some through tears, saying Kelly preyed on and abused them and misled his fans. Kelly, who made no eye contact with the victims as they delivered their remarks, looked straight ahead or down with his hands placed on the defense table.

A victim, identified in court as Stephanie, said Kelly had decades of remorseless freedom, and said she hopes he goes to jail for the rest of his life. "You made me do things that broke my spirit…I literally wished I would die because of how you made me feel."

A victim identified as Angela said Kelly "manipulated" millions to believe his perception of himself, and took away the voices of his victims. "Today, I and so many of your victims took it back," she said. "Today, we sought to be heard … we are no longer preyed upon individuals."

Allegations that Kelly abused young girls began to circulate in the 1990s. He was sued in 1997 by a woman who alleged sexual battery and sexual harassment while she was a minor, and later faced criminal child pornography charges related to a different girl. A jury in Chicago acquitted him in 2008, and Kelly settled the lawsuit.

Evidence also surfaced over the years regarding late R&B singer Aaliyah. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a fake license that said she was 18 and not 15. Kelly was then 27. Aaliyah, whose music Kelly produced, died in a plane crash in 2001.

Survivors, alongside their attorney, spoke about Kelly's abuse after delivering their victim impact statements to the court.

"I was an up-and-coming singer. I was a girl full of life … and promised just a mentorship, and quickly turned into I would just say a sex slave," said Lizzette Martinez, one of Kelly's accusers, who spoke at the sentencing hearing. "I never thought that I would be here today to see him be held accountable for the atrocious things he did to children."

"I stand here very proud of my judicial system, very proud of my fellow survivors, and very pleased with the outcome. Thirty years did he do this, and 30 years is what he got," another survivor said.

One victim called Kelly "a pied piper who lured children with his money and celebrity."

"He was a skilled sexual predator who preyed on his victims and after grooming them, he inflicted significant emotional and sometimes physical harm," said Gloria Allred, an attorney for Kelly's victims.

A jury last September found Kelly, 55, guilty of all charges at a racketeering and sex trafficking trial in federal court in Brooklyn. Kelly, who did not testify at the trial, has denied wrongdoing.

Several accusers testified in lurid detail during the trial, alleging that Kelly subjected his victims to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.

Kelly used his "fame, money and popularity" to systematically "prey upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing recommendation for Kelly.

"He continued his crimes and avoided punishment for them for almost 30 years and must now be held to account," prosecutors wrote.

Among multiple sordid allegations, jurors heard testimony about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 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 age 22.

Kelly's conviction last year was seen as a signature moment in the #MeToo movement.

Outrage over Kelly's sexual misconduct with young women and children was fueled in part by the widely watched docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," which gave voice to accusers who wondered whether their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.  

Kelly also faces a trial on child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in federal court in Chicago, starting Aug. 15.

The federal charges against Kelly in Chicago accuse him of videotaping himself having sex with underage girls, and paying hush money and intimidating witnesses to cover up his crimes.

He's also facing multiple sexual assault and sexual abuse charges in Cook County. The first of those trials has been delayed multiple times due to the pandemic.

He's also facing charges of prostitution involving a child in Minnesota.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.