Robert Sylvester Kelly is known to the world as R. Kelly. In the late 1990s and 2000s, he was called the “King of R&B” with smash hits like “I Believe I Can Fly.” Yet a predator lurked below the glitzy surface, and his musical legacy was not enough to ignore the chilling accusations against him.
On Wednesday, June 29, R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering and sex trafficking. According to the New York Times, his downfall has been in the making for an equal amount of time. It began when Kelly was at the height of his popularity and had far-reaching access to legions of young fans and budding artists. He chose his victims for sexual encounters with little to no regard for their age. The nine racketeering charges came from the singer’s use of “enablers” to control the lives of those he preyed upon.
Judge Donnelly, who presided over the case, heard impact statements from several accusers as they detailed how Kelly affected their lives. Nine women and two men shared their harrowing stories of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. Many testified they were minors when they first had sex with R. Kelly.
Kelly’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean asked for a sentence of fewer than 10 years. Federal prosecutors asked for a term longer than 25 years. In a blistering sentencing letter, the prosecutors claimed Kelly had shown no remorse for decades, and his crimes were “fueled by narcissism and a belief his musical talent would absolve him.” They claimed he used his influence as both sword and shield, with the shield protecting him from scrutiny and the sword giving Kelly access to a network of victims and enablers.
The accusations regarding R. Kelly’s predatory behavior began to swirl in the 1990s. His infamous illegal marriage to the late Aaliyah in 1994 finally prompted questions about his rumored activities. He was 27 years old at the time, while she was 15. Kelly’s former manager testified at the trial that Kelly bribed an Illinois government employee to obtain a fake ID for the teen so she could pass as 18. The marriage took place out of fear Aaliyah was pregnant, and Kelly was attempting to dodge statutory rape charges.