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R. Kelly sentenced to 20 years in Chicago case

All but one year will be served concurrently with a 30-year prison term Kelly is already serving from a 2021 sex trafficking conviction in New York.

CHICAGO (CN) — Former R&B star R. Kelly was sentenced to another 20 years in prison Thursday, five months after a jury in the Windy City convicted him on six federal child porn and sexual enticement charges.

In September the jurors found him guilty of producing and circulating several sex scenes featuring girls as young as 14, and of enticing multiple teenage girls to sleep with him in the late 1990s and early 'aughts.

Kelly, currently held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, is already serving a 30-year sentence for a 2021 conviction in New York City on sex trafficking and racketeering charges. The new Chicago sentence mandates that he serve an additional year consecutively to his New York prison term, with the remaining 19 years to be served concurrently. As a silver lining, the court issued no new fines on Kelly, and he may also be eligible for three concurrent years of supervised release. Should he not attain that release, the combined sentences still likely ensure that the diabetic 56-year-old will die in prison.

This was an express goal of the Justice Department, whose sentencing memo urged U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, a Ronald Reagan appointee, to make Kelly serve his New York and Chicago sentences consecutively rather than at the same time. That memo called for Kelly to serve a term of 25 years, saying that "the only way to ensure Kelly does not reoffend is to impose a sentence that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life."

In the sentencing hearing Thursday, Assistant US Attorney Jeannice Appenteng repeated this point, arguing that Kelly was unremorseful for his actions and had proven "unable to control his impulses."

"[Kelly's] lack of responsibility for his criminal conduct, even in the face of irrefutable video evidence, demonstrates that he poses a great risk of recidivism," Appenteng said.

Three of Kelly's victims, now adult women and operating under the pseudonyms "Jane," "Nia" and "Pauline," also said they wished for Kelly to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Nia and Pauline delivered their statements in person Thursday, while Jane, Kelly's goddaughter, had an attorney read from her prepared remarks.

"When you lose your virginity to a pedophile at the age of 14... your life is never your own," Jane's statement read. It also lamented that she would be forever known as the girl R. Kelly peed on, and claimed that his abuse has prevented her from having healthy romantic relationships.

"I need closure. I need Robert Kelly in jail... for as long as the law will allow," Jane's statement read.

Pauline said in her statement that Kelly's sexual abuse had left her fearful of her own child's safety, and hesitant to trust others. She and Nia, who said at trial that Kelly masturbated on her in a Minnesota hotel room when she was 15, both delivered their remarks through tears. Nia said she felt used and discarded by Kelly; that he had doted on her as a girl but then abandoned her after she came of age.

"I'm praying to God and asking Him for forgiveness. No child should have to suffer the way you made me suffer," Nia said, also asking Leinenweber to send Kelly to prison for life.

When Kelly's attorney Jennifer Bonjean delivered her own sentencing recommendations, she called the government's wish for consecutive sentences "overkill." She said that statistically, Kelly was likely to die in prison anyway, making an extended sentence redundant.

"Black men, with diabetes, do not live into their 80s in prison... they want a symbolic sentence, for themselves," Bonjean said, also accusing prosecutors of using Kelly to facetiously show that their office took child exploitation seriously.


"Just because you give R. Kelly 50 years, 100 years, does not solve the problem of child exploitation in this country," Bonjean said.

The defense attorney also wrote in her sentencing memo that anti-Black racism informed prosecutors' wish for the singer to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Comparing Kelly to celebrated white artists like Elvis Presley, who met his wife Priscilla when she was only 14, she wrote that federal prosecutors had "a unique, unprecedented contempt for Kelly that is wanting as to his similarly situated white counterparts."

In handing down Thursday's sentence, Leinenweber ultimately sided more with Bonjean than the Justice Department. It was a reversal of Leinenweber's prior stance toward Bonjean's arguments; Before Kelly's sentencing, the defense attorney had made three separate motions for the singer to be acquitted and to receive a new trial. She argued that two government witnesses had perjured themselves during the 2022 trial in Chicago, without prosecution correcting them before the jury. Leinenweber denied all of those motions last week.

But on Thursday, the judge said he took into consideration Kelly's own experience of sexual abuse, his effective illiteracy and learning disabilities, the fact that no witness ever alleged he physically beat them, and especially his age.

Under just the New York sentence Kelly is unlikely to leave prison before turning 80, if he even survives that long. With that in mind, along with the loss of wealth and status Kelly has suffered, Leinenweber opined that Kelly's risk of recidivism on his potential release was "minimal."

“No matter what I do, Mr. Kelly isn’t going out the door today,” Leinenweber said. “He’s not going out the door in the next 10 years, he’s not going out the door in the next 20 years."

Leinenweber is 85 years old himself, and said men in their 80s are interested more "in their prostate and their arthritis" than with underage girls.

Kelly's supporters, both online and in the courtroom, applauded Leinenweber allowing Kelly to serve most of the new sentence concurrently. Many still consider Kelly wholly innocent, but online, most said they considered the ruling more fair than the 30 year sentence handed down last year in New York by U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly, a Barack Obama appointee.

"I would have liked for there not to have been a sentencing, I would have liked for there to not have been anything done... but with that being said, there's more to come," said R. Kelly supporter Sandra Dominique, alluding to Bonjean's prior assurance that she would seek appeals of Kelly's cases in both the Second and Seventh Circuits.

Bonjean repeated that assurance to reporters following the sentencing's conclusion, though she also said she was pleased with Leinenweber's relatively lenient sentence.

"There's still a big fight ahead of us. We are challenging the conviction in New York, that will be litigated very soon... Again, we're pleased, but you know, we have a lot of work left to do," Bonjean said.

Apart from those appeals, Kelly's sentencing marks the end of a legal saga that began more than two decades ago, when Cook County prosecutors began investigating rumors of his sexual involvement with underage women. Kelly was first indicted on child porn charges in Chicago in 2002, several months after former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis received a sex tape featuring Kelly and Jane from an anonymous sender. Kelly was cleared of those charges in a 2008 trial in Cook County.

A decade later, the Lifetime documentary series "Surviving R. Kelly" and the #MeToo movement spurred a renewed interest in his case. U.S. attorneys in New York and Chicago filed new indictments against Kelly in 2019, as did the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced in January that her office was dismissing the state level charges against Kelly given his two convictions in federal court, though the singer still faces residual civil litigation in Chicago as well as a sexual assault charge in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Bonjean said she did not currently know what the future held for that case.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch's office expressed disappointment that Kelly did not receive a longer sentence, but also gratitude that "Kelly will never again be in a position to exploit young girls."

“With today’s sentence, a sexual predator is being held accountable for the years of abuse he inflicted on minor victims,” Lausch said in a prepared statement. “Kelly used his celebrity and wealth to attract and victimize young girls, and to obstruct prior criminal proceedings intended to end his despicable conduct. We commend the courage and the strength of the victims who came forward in this case to expose Kelly’s crimes."

Dominique and many other Kelly supporters disagreed with Lausch, saying they remain hopeful that the singer will eventually be exonerated.

"I trust God. And I know that God is going to prevail even in the midst of where Robert is right now," Dominique said.

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Categories / Criminal, Entertainment, Trials

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