Fallen music star R Kelly was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 years in prison in a US federal sex trafficking and racketeering case in New York.
Last year, a jury found R&B singer and producer Kelly, 55, guilty of racketeering and other counts in a trial that was seen as a key moment in the #MeToo movement.
Outrage over Kelly's sexual misconduct with young women and children was fueled in part by the widely watched docuseries “Surviving R Kelly," which gave voice to accusers who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.
US District Judge Ann Donnelly imposed the sentence at a federal court in Brooklyn after hearing statements from seven victims.
'Silence is a very lonely place'
Through tears and anger, his accusers told a court Wednesday he had preyed on them and misled his fans, while Kelly awaited sentencing on his federal sex trafficking conviction in a tan prison uniform.
"You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel," one woman told the singer. She said she was forever traumatised by her teenage experience with him.
"Do you remember that?” she asked.
Another woman said Kelly's conviction renewed her confidence in the legal system.
“I once lost hope,” she said, addressing the court and prosecutors, “but you restored my faith.”
The woman said Kelly victimised her after she went to a concert when she was 17.
“I was afraid, naive and didn’t know to handle the situation,” she said, so she did not speak up at the time.
“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.”
Prosecutors sought a minimum 25-year term, while the defence said a sentence of 10 years or less is all he deserved.
'Traumatic childhood' versus 'preying upon women and children'
Kelly’s lawyers argued in court papers he should get a break in part because he “experienced a traumatic childhood involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence."
They added: “His victimisation continued into adulthood where, because of his literacy deficiencies, the defendant has been repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him.”
The jury convicted the I Believe I Can Fly hitmaker after hearing about how he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient — an operation that amounted to a criminal enterprise, prosecutors said.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, used his “fame, money and popularity” to systematically “prey upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification,” prosecutors wrote in their own filing earlier this month.
The accusers alleged they were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as 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 exposed what was happening.
There was testimony Kelly gave several accusers herpes without disclosing he had an STD, coerced a teenage boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage, and shot a shaming video of one victim showing her smearing faeces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
'Fradulent marriage scheme' with Aaliyah
Evidence was presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15.
Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18. He was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
An earlier defence memo suggested prosecutors’ arguments for a higher sentence overreached by falsely claiming Kelly participated in the paying of a bribe to a government official in order to facilitate the illegal marriage.
Kelly’s lawyers also said it was wrong to assert he should get more time because he sexually abused one of his victims — referred to in court as “Jane” — after her parents innocently entrusted him to help her with her musical career.
“The record shows that Jane’s parents directed Jane to lie to the defendant about her age and then encouraged her to seduce him,” the papers say.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since 2019. He is still facing child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin on 15 August.