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R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual abuse

The singer was found guilty of federal charges last September

By Joe Goggins

R. Kelly in a Chicago court, 2019
Kelly was already serving a 30-year federal sentence. (Photo: Alamy)

R. Kelly, the platinum-selling US R&B singer, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ singer, real name Robert Sylvester Kelly, was found guilty as long ago as last September on federal charges in New York, including racketeering and sex trafficking.

That decision capped years of allegations of sexual impropriety that had dogged Kelly without consequence up until the #MeToo movement, born of the exposure of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s crimes, inspired a number of victims to come forward.

The singer’s legal team have already confirmed that an appeal is pending. They had been pushing for a considerably more lenient sentence, in the region of 10 years, and had cited both a difficult childhood during which Kelly himself had been abused and a career during which he had repeatedly lost control of his finances to opportunists as extenuating circumstances.

US District Judge Ann Donnelly, presiding, though, saw past those arguments, and said Kelly had systematically used sex as a weapon as a way to control his victims. The ‘Ignition’ hitmaker did not address the court; he has been in custody in Brooklyn since 2019. He wore prison-issue khakis and dark-lensed glasses to the hearing, standing with his head bowed much of the time.

“You taught [your victims] that love is enslavement and violence,” said Judge Donnelly as she handed down the sentence.” A number of those preyed upon by Kelly were present in court to hear the verdict, with one woman, who would be identified only as Angela, casting Kelly as a Pied Piper figure who “grew in wickedness” as the years went on. 

Others chose to remain anonymous, one of whom addressed Kelly in court, saying: “I literally wished I would die because of how you made me feel.” The sentence marks the latest stage in a fall from grace for Kelly that had been on the cards for years; he married the late singer Aaliyah back in 1994, when she was just 15. His legal troubles do not end here, though; he will be up on further federal charges in August, this time in Chicago. A similar outcome there would mean that Kelly, 55, would likely die in prison.