BROOKLYN (CN) — A federal judge sentenced singer R. Kelly to 30 years in prison Tuesday on sex trafficking and racketeering charges.
The 55-year-old “I Believe I Can Fly” singer was convicted nine months earlier on each of nine counts against him. At a six-week trial in Brooklyn federal court, witness after witness described how Kelly used his entourage to systematically recruit and abuse young women and minors.
Former girlfriends of Kelly said he exerted total control over their lives, directing them to have sex with one another and with men — sometimes strangers — and even limiting when they could eat and go to the bathroom. He dictated their wardrobes, allowing them only to wear baggy clothing, and forbade them from speaking to or even looking at other men. In elevators, the women and girls were told to face the wall, victim witnesses testified.
Disobeying “Robert’s rules” would end in angry outbursts or what Kelly referred to as “chastisements" — spankings that left bruises and broke skin — according to testimony. One victim described getting hit with a cord and a Nike Air Force 1 sneaker. Another witness, Jane, said Kelly punished her by forcing her to have sex with a man she’d never met. Others said they were denied food for days.
At the center of the government’s case was a witness who could not speak for herself: the singer Aaliyah, who died in a 2001 plane crash.
Trial evidence and testimony showed that she was just 15 when Kelly, then 27, married her because he believed she was pregnant and because he believed incorrectly that their marriage would shield him with spousal immunity. On their way to the altar, Kelly had his associates pay off a public official to create a fake ID for his bride, whose full name was Aaliyah Haughton.
One of Kelly’s former dancers, who testified under the name Angela, said she witnessed Kelly in a “sexual situation” in 1992 or 1993, when Aaliyah would have been 13 or 14 years old.
Angela herself was forced to have sex with Kelly at age 14 or 15, she testified.
“He told us that we had to pay our dues,” Angela said. “It was a requirement to be around.”
Kelly seemed to be untouchable. His single “Bump N’ Grind” topped the Billboard charts for the longest stretch of the year in 1994 and was also the longest-running R&B single at that time.
Nearly a decade later, at the same time a sex tape was circulating that appeared to show Kelly having sex with an underage girl and urinating on her, his “Ignition (Remix)” track spent five weeks in the No. 2 spot. Kelly then faced child pornography charges but was acquitted in 2008.
Justice would not come for victims until early 2019 when the Lifetime series “Surviving R. Kelly” stirred backlash against Kelly catalyzed by the #MeToo movement. Kelly was quickly indicted at the state and federal level in Chicago, in addition to his charges in the Eastern District of New York.
Of the victims who testified against Kelly at trial last year, the one known as Jane spent the most time on the stand. She said her her sexual contact with the R&B star started in 2015 when she was 17 years old and Kelly was 48.
The two met in Orlando, Florida, after a concert in Kelly’s “Black Panties” album tour. An aspiring R&B artist herself, Jane said she skipped her high school extracurricular activities to meet Kelly at the Dolphin Hotel for an audition. On the stand, she recalled her outfit: black kitten heels, a pair of dark blue skinny jeans and a crop top with mesh at the top.