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R. Kelly victims recount years of abuse at singer’s sentencing

Seven accusers spoke about the trauma, humiliation and long-lasting psychological scars left by years of abuse and control.

BROOKLYN (CN) — Tension between R. Kelly’s victims and his supporters bubbled over following the emotional four-hour hearing Wednesday where the former R&B singer was handed a 30-year prison sentence

Convicted on nine counts of sex trafficking and racketeering, Kelly remained still with his eyes downcast as seven women told the court how their lives were changed by the singer’s abuse and total control over their lives.  

Witnesses at trial said Kelly directed their every move: He limited what they could eat and when, allowed them only to wear baggy clothing and forbade them from speaking to or even looking at other men. He directed them to have sex with him and each other, dictating their every move. 

If they broke the rules, Kelly would physically abuse them, including spanking them so hard he left bruises and broke skin, or would not let them eat for days, they testified. One witness said he forced her to have sex with a man she’d never met as punishment. 

One of Kelly’s backup dancers in the early 1990’s, who identified herself outside court as Javonte, said she was just 14 or 15 years old when the “Ignition (Remix)” singer forced her to have sex with him. She toured with Kelly and the singer Aaliyah, and said she saw the two in a “sexual situation” when Aaliyah was no older than 14

Angela said she represented the other performers, then young girls, who experienced the same abuse. 

“I am Javonte. I am Tiffany. I am Aaliyah Dana Haughton. I am a representation of every woman, boy, child, man that you have ever afflicted with your deplorable, inexplicable acts,” Javonte said, speaking passionately and directly to Kelly. 

“With that, I leave you with yourself, Robert Sylvester Kelly.” 

Haughton died in a 2001 plane crash but was the subject of the top count against Kelly. 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. 

Other women described how Kelly isolated them from their families, sowing distrust by telling them he was the only one who could help the careers in music to which some aspire. 

Lizzette Martinez was abused as a child, and met Kelly in Miami when she was 17 years old. After a party, he sexually assaulted her, Martinez told the court. 

“This was when a lifetime of depression and PTSD started for me,” Martinez said, accompanied at the podium by her attorney Gloria Allred. 

When she turned 18, Kelly could bring her to Chicago to be his “sex slave,” she continued. 

Another woman who spoke under the name Jane Doe 2 called Kelly a pedophile who took advantage of her. 

“You made me do things that broke my spirit,” she said. “I literally wished that I would die because of how you made me feel.” 

Jane Doe 2 said Kelly once made her perform oral sex on her in the back seat of a car while there were passengers in the front, after Kelly had played an hour of basketball. 

“I did as I was told when you told me to moan, and do it louder, as you forced your penis in and out of my mouth,” she said, looking at Kelly. “Do you remember that?”

Kelly and his attorney Jennifer Bonjean whispered to one another during the victim statements. Jane Doe 2 paused speaking. 

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“I’m sorry, I don’t want to interrupt your conversation,” she said. 

The last of the seven to speak was Faith, who was joined by her father, who attended the trial that kicked off in August 2021. 

“My concern is not if you’re sorry. I can see that you’re not,” Faith said. “I can see your enablers around, I can see their faces, I can see your attorneys’ faces.” 

Supporters of R. Kelly filled a row in the front of the courtroom as Faith described harassment she experienced after speaking publicly about being sexually abused by Kelly, including being unaware that he had a sexually transmitted disease that she now lives with. Kelly’s associate Donnell Russell threatened to release nude photos of Faith to silence her, Faith testified, and eventually did so. 

During trial, supporters yelled at Faith’s family, prompting a scolding from U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly, and subsequently, the public and media were combined into one overflow room so a second room could be used for family members. 

Faith’s father, a pastor, said he believes Kelly can redeem himself, but he must first acknowledge what he did. 

“I didn’t come here to bash Mr. Kelly … but I do want to ask you, Mr. Kelly, to look at me man to man, father to father,” he said. “Put yourself in my shoes. I’ve certainly put myself in yours.” 

Kelly continued to stare straight ahead. 

Outside the courtroom, tensions flared into a screaming match between women who said they were attending trial on behalf of victims and others supporting Kelly. One supporter, who flashed media credentials, scuffled with reporters after she stood in front of cameras to film Bonjean. She chimed in several times as the attorney spoke. A male supporter refused to stop shouting over Martinez, Allred and Javonte as they spoke to the crowd. 

Supporters insist that the women accusing Kelly are lying, consented to sex, and knew they were getting involved in a particular sexual lifestyle, a point Bonjean argued in court. She pointed to Jane, a witness who testified that her sexual contact with Kelly started in 2015 when she was 17 years old and Kelly was 48. 

“We can all take issue with the age difference, but at the end of the day … this would have been a legal relationship, and a consensual one,” Bonjean said. 

Bonjean said that although Kelly admits no wrongdoing, “he has regrets and he’s sad.” 

“He accepts that he is a flawed individual, but he is not the one-dimensional monster that the government has portrayed,” Bonjean said. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes disagreed with that assessment. 

“It is not enough to say he accepts responsibility, and then continue to perpetrate this narrative that he’s done nothing wrong,” she told the court. 

After Kelly declined to make a statement, Donnelly walked through her own reaction to trial evidence, speaking in a slow and somber tone. 

“Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this case is not about sex,” Donnelly said. “It’s about violence and cruelty and control.” 

In a sentencing memo Bonjean, who helped comedian Bill Cosby overturn his sexual assault conviction, cited sexual abuse and trauma in Kelly’s own childhood. His mother beat him with cords and switches, and even stabbed Kelly in the left arm in one incident. Beginning when Kelly was just 6 or 7 years old, Bonjean wrote, he also suffered sexual abuse by his sister and a family friend that went on for years. 

Donnelly said she took all that into consideration. 

“Perhaps some of those experiences explain some of your behavior,” she said. “It most certainly is not an excuse.” 

The judge also addressed the enterprise upon which prosecutors pinned the racketeering charges — assistants, managers, runners and friends who all helped the singer recruit and maintain control over his young victims. Those close to Kelly would carry slips of paper with the singer’s phone number scrawled or printed and hand them out at concerts, malls and a Chicago McDonald’s at Kelly’s instruction, according to court testimony. 

“I don’t know why these people all turned a blind eye. Whether that was an excuse to every standards of human decency, because you were famous,” Donnelly said. “Maybe it just became normal to those people.” 

Donnelly said she would never forget a shocking incident described in court by a male accuser who testified as Louis. Kelly took him into a boxing ring in a detached building at his estate. “He snapped his fingers two times and a young lady came out from underneath the ring,” Louis said, adding that she was fully naked. “She crawled over to him and gave him oral sex,” then Kelly instructed her to do the same to Louis. 

Kelly’s efforts to explain away his conduct indicates he won’t be deterred from further abuse, Donnelly said. 

“You had a system in place that lured young people into your orbit, and then you took over their lives,” Donnelly said. “You raped them, beat them. One victim said that you beat her until she broke … one of the witnesses described these women as zombies.” 

Several women who spoke on Wednesday said that testifying allowed them to close a devastating chapter of their lives and begin to heal. 

Kelly meanwhile has a long way to go. He faces state and federal charges in Chicago, with trial set to begin in August. 

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