R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday on federal sex trafficking charges during a court hearing in New York before U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly. He was also sentenced to five years of supervised release and a $100,000 fine.
Prosecutors recommended that the R&B star from Chicago get at least 25 years in prison, while the defense argued for a sentence of 10 years or less.
Kelly, 55, was found guilty of racketeering and other counts last year.
During a press conference after the sentencing, Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, thanked women for coming forward, saying that they were “heard and believed” and “justice was finally achieved.”
“R. Kelly is a predator and as a result of our prosecution he will serve a long jail sentence for his crimes,” he said.
Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney for Kelly, said “he’s obviously devastated” by the sentencing but noted it “didn’t come as a great big surprise.” She added that his team plans to appeal.
The women’s attorney, Gloria Allred, called Kelly a “skilled sexual predator,” and applauded the “courageous” women who came forward.
“Together they were able to fight his power by becoming empowered young women themselves,” she said during a Wednesday press conference outside of the courthouse.
“It’s been a long journey to justice, but they’ve all been very brave and sacrificing enormous amounts of time to cooperate and to testify,” she later added.
A woman who identified herself as Lizzette Martinez said she was 17 years old at the time of her alleged abuse. She is now 45.
“I never thought I would be here to see him be held accountable for the atrocious things he did to children,” she said. “I don’t know what else to say except that I am grateful.”
Another woman, who identified herself as Jovante, said she was 14 when she “encountered” Kelly.
“There wasn’t a day in my life, up until this moment, that I believed this judicial system would come through for Black and Brown girls,” she said, adding that she’s “pleased” and “overwhelmed” by the sentencing.
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.
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.
Kelly, who did not testify at the trial, has denied wrongdoing.
He 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 in August.