Robert Sylvester Kelly, the Chicago singer known to millions as R. Kelly, on Monday, September 27, was convicted on all nine counts of sex trafficking in the Brooklyn courthouse for the Eastern District of New York.
After six emotional weeks of damning testimonies of 50 witnesses, a jury of seven men and five women found Kelly guilty of running a criminal ring that ensnared teenagers and women in a web of sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
Kelly, 54, now faces 10 years, the mandatory minimum, to life in prison for the charges related to nearly 30 years of accusations. He will be sentenced on May 4 of next year.
“Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator, who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification. A predator who used his inner circle to ensnare underage girls, and young men and women for decades in a sordid web of sex, abuse, exploitation, and humiliation,” said Jacquelyn Kasulis, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
The conviction ends decades of freewheeling by Kelly, once dubbed “the King of R&B.” Throughout his life, Kelly remained a Grammy award-winning, charismatic, but defiant singer who often gloated as he escaped justice amid dozens of accusations of having sex with minors after seducing them with money, jewelry, clothes and his lavish, over-the-top lifestyle.
But things may get even worse for Kelly as he still faces child pornography charges in Chicago. Steve Greenberg, his attorney in Chicago told ABC7, “The Chicago case, unfortunately for Robert, is far more serious,” Greenberg said. “Because it involves child pornography charges and charges that he obstructed justice in his earlier trial from the 2000s, which was in state court here. The Chicago case actually carries much more severe penalties than the New York case, but we’re gonna fight for….we know the evidence in that case, we’re prepared we could go to trial tomorrow.” Kelly also faces two criminal charges in Minnesota for alleged prostitution with a minor in 2001.
But some legal analysts say federal prosecutors may not go through with those remaining cases against Kelly because of his conviction in New York. If Kelly does come to Chicago next year for the charges, legal analysts say it would be after his May 4 sentencing in New York.
Greenberg said, “the Chicago case could be resolved through a plea, it could be resolved through a trial or could be resolved by the government deciding that they don’t want to put their alleged victims through it. It happens all the time in criminal cases where prosecutors and defense talk about a case and reach an understanding and it’s a compromise, and in a compromise everyone is unhappy.”
One thing for certain is that R. Kelly’s days as a singer and free citizen are over. His conviction in New York likely sealed his career and hopes of returning to the lavish life he once led before millions of fans. He was acquitted of sex charges in 2008, but many people believed he escaped justice because of his power and influence as a celebrity who had the overwhelming support of record labels, agents, concert promoters and radio stations. With the “MeToo Movement” and a different social climate, prosecutors were determined to put Kelly behind bars following the damning documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
During his racketeering trial in New York, federal prosecutors invoked what’s known as the “RICO Act” against Kelly, who has always eluded law enforcement, despite horrid and gruesome stories of sex abuse against women he seduced.
During the trial, several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage. One woman said Kelly took advantage of her in 2003 when she was an unsuspecting radio station intern. She testified that at Kelly’s Chicago recording studio she was kept locked up and was drugged before he sexually assaulted her while she was passed out.
While his defense lawyers portrayed his accusers as money-hungry opportunists, prosecutors painted Kelly as a pampered man-child and control freak. His accusers during their testimonies said they were ordered to call him “Daddy.” They also said they were expected to jump and kiss him whenever he walked into a room.
The accusers alleged that they also were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were threatened and punished with violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules.” Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they told authorities and others about what happened to them.
There were other disturbing allegations. One included Kelly keeping a gun by his side while he berated one of his accusers before he forced her to give him oral sex in a Los Angeles music studio. Another alleged that Kelly gave his victims herpes without disclosing he had an STD. Another allegation said Kelly shot a video showing one the face of one female victim smeared with feces after she broke his rules.
Other testimony included Kelly’s relationship with the late R&B singer Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22. Formally known as Aaliyah Dana Haughton, she worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” One final witness described seeing him sexually abusing her [Aaliyah] around 1993, when Aaliyah was only 13 or 14. Another witness testified about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated Aaliyah. Witnesses said they were married using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
While in the Chicago area, Kelly lived in a mansion in Olympia Fields, a suburb 25 miles south of the city. He called a studio in the manse “The Chocolate Factory.” In 2003, he produced an album with that name, which included the song “Ignition.” With its sexually suggested lyrics, the song went number one in nine countries including the U.S. and the United Kingdom. In Chicago, the song was constantly played throughout the day on radio stations.
Despite his legal problems and the allegations, Kelly’s records kept selling and his concerts were often sold out. But his problems kept piling up. In 2002, he was arrested and accused of making a recording of himself sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year- old girl.
Inside his Olympia Fields manse, more lurid allegations of sexual abuse emerged as Kelly lived there between 2004 to 2010. During the trial in New York, prosecutors said at Kelly’s “Chocolate Factory” studio, he was the leader of a criminal “enterprise” that included the singer’s managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants, runners and members of his entourage.
Witnesses testified that numerous female guests would often visit the mansion every day to see Kelly. They would be asked to sign “nondisclosure agreements” after entering the place. They would have Polaroids taken of them and stapled to their signed agreements.
Defense attorney Nicole Blank Becker claimed during opening statements on August 18 that the studio’s strict rules were established, in part, because Kelly lived and worked in the building. His process as an artist, Becker claimed, took longer because he is allegedly illiterate. Jerhonda Pace testified that she was 16 years old when she began coming to Kelly’s home. She alleged that he sexually abused her and that she spent time in the manse’s “mirror room,” which had mirrors on walls and on the ceiling. Pace testified that she once had to wait three days in the mirror room to get permission to go to the bathroom. Several of Kelly’s accusers testified without using their real names. Jurors were shown homemade videos of Kelly engaging in sex acts that prosecutors said were not consensual. “Many of his victims had the courage to speak up and tell their truth under oath in a court of law,” said prominent attorney Gloria Allred. “I am very proud of my clients who agreed to testify in this case. I thank them for trusting me, law enforcement and the jury to find the truth. My clients who testified fought through their fear and relived their painful experiences with Kelly and his enablers. Kelly’s victims handled themselves with dignity and survived intense cross-examination.”