- A jury in federal court in Brooklyn found R. Kelly guilty in his sex crimes trial Monday.
- Prosecutors had accused Kelly of running a criminal enterprise that recruited girls, boys, and women for sex.
- The trial lasted more than a month and included testimony from more than 40 witnesses.
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R. Kelly has been found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking in his federal criminal trial.
Jurors convicted him on all nine counts against him, taking around 10 hours to deliberate their verdict on Friday afternoon and Monday. The 54-year-old singer now faces a sentence of between 10 years to life in prison.
In the indictment against the singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, prosecutors accused him of directing his employees to procure women for sex and sexually abused numerous women over the span of nearly 25 years. In opening statements, Assistant US Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez, the lead prosecutor in the case, blasted him as a “predator” who “used his money, his clout, and his public persona to hide his crimes in plain sight.”
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors brought more than 40 witnesses to testify about Kelly. The witnesses included women and men who described how Kelly directed them to have sex with him and each other, and how the singer obsessively took videos of every sexual encounter.
Jurors ultimately agreed with prosecutors in the case. They found him guilty of all eight counts of the Mann Act, brought for sex trafficking, and 12 of the 14 different acts included in a single racketeering charge.
“Many of his victims had the courage to speak up and tell their truth under oath, in a court of law,” Gloria Allred, who represented three accusers testifying in the case, told members of the media following the verdict. “I am very proud of my clients who testified in this case.”
Attorneys on R. Kelly’s defense team were surrounded by members of the media as they attempted to leave the federal court in Brooklyn where the singer was found guilty. They left the area without making extended remarks, saying just a few words about what they described as inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.
Accusers detailed harrowing stories of abuse
The verdict is among the biggest victories yet for the #MeToo movement, following Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction in February 2020.
The young women in Kelly’s orbit – many of whom were teenagers when they began sexual relationships with the pop star – testified throughout the trial that he controlled the minutiae of their lives, requiring them to seek his permission to use the bathroom and forbidding them from looking at other men.
At times, some of the women, Kelly could be furious with them. One woman said he once forced her to eat feces on camera and get an abortion.
Almost all of them said Kelly pressured them to lie, sometimes requiring them to write false letters about personal trauma or crimes they say they didn’t commit that he used as collateral.
The trial also unveiled new information about the nature of Kelly’s short-lived sham marriage with Aaliyah, the R&B singer who Kelly mentored from the age of 12. Aaliyah died in 2001, at 22, after the plane she was traveling in crashed off of the Bahamas. Her marriage to Kelly was annulled less than a year after the marriage.
According to former employees, accusers, and a minister, Kelly bribed an Illinois government employee to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah so that he could make the marriage happen as part of a scheme to get her an abortion.
Peter Fitzhugh, a homeland security official involved in the case, spoke to members of the media outside of the courthouse as the singer’s supporters decried the verdict.
“Mr. Kelly once said I’m no angel but I’m no monster either,” he said. “I respectfully disagree.”
Kelly’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 4, 2022.
Prosecutors said Kelly effectively ran a sex abuse organization
Prosecutors brought the original charges under two main criminal statutes: the Mann Act and racketeering.
The Mann Act is a federal law that prohibits the interstate transportation of women and girls for sex, and is usually brought for sex crimes like kidnapping and sex trafficking. Prosecutors brought eight separate Mann Act counts against Kelly.
Racketeering – a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO – is a law that was first developed to go after organized crime, and is sometimes also used for businesses that conduct criminal activity.
Experts said applying the racketeering charges to Kelly was a novel and potentially risky move by prosecutors. Kelly was charged alone in the indictment, rather than along with other people in the criminal enterprise.
But prosecutors ultimately prevailed. Jurors needed to agree on just two of the 14-part racketeering count to convict.
Attorneys for Kelly tried to prove that many of the “rules” the famous singer had in place were to protect his and their safety, and that the women he had sexual relationships with were never held against their will. The defense tried to paint several accusers out to be promiscuous girlfriends who were looking to profit from book deals or publicity.
Jurors did not find Kelly guilty of one of the racketeering acts related to accusations from a witness who testified under the pseudonym “Sonya”. Sonya testified that she sought an interview from Kelly as a radio journalist in 2003. When she flew in to meet him, she said, she was locked in a room for two days without food or water, and believes she was drugged and sexually assaulted by Kelly.
In a statement distributed by Gloria Allred, who represented her in the case, Sonya said she would live a life “free from fear.”
“I’ve been hiding from Robert Kelly due to fear and threats made against me, and I’m ready to start living my life free from fear and start the healing process,” Sony’s statement read, according to Allred.
Sonya also thanked members of the jury for considering her testimony, and prosecutors for bringing the case. She urged other accusers to come forward.
“Thank you for shining a light and helping me get out from under that rock that I stayed under for far too long,” she said, according to Allred. “If you’ve been in a similar situation, I urge you to come forward. It will be like a weight lifted off of your shoulders.”
Decades of sexual misconduct accusations
The verdict against Kelly follows two decades of various accusations of sexual misconduct. The singer had been tried on child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, but was acquitted.
Kelly’s career continued to thrive despite the stain of the 2008 trial. He first came to prominence in the 1990s with singles like “Bump N’ Grind” and “I Believe I Can Fly,” and later cemented his status as an R&B legend with songs like “Ignition (Remix)” and his seven-year musical opera “Trapped in the Closet.” He was also a prominent producer, making songs for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Aaliyah, his protege.
Accusations of sexual misconduct against Kelly gained renewed attention in July 2017 as Jim DeRogatis – a former Chicago Sun-Times journalist who reported on many of the initial claims against Kelly – published an explosive BuzzFeed News feature claiming Kelly maintained a “cult” of young girls who he tore away from their parents.
The #MuteRKelly movement, which sought to end the singer’s career, and the #MeToo movement that arose following sexual misconduct accusations against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017 drove even more public attention to the claims against Kelly.
In early 2019, several accusers came forward to describe their experiences with the singer in Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries. Several of them testified in the Brooklyn trial, where they went into greater detail about their stories.
Kelly was arrested in the New York federal case on July 11, 2019. In Chicago, he faces a second set of federal charges, as well as state-level sexual abuse charges. A Minnesota district attorney has also accused him of soliciting prostitution. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.