As R Kelly was sentenced some of his hundreds of victims spoke out ending years of silence enforced by shame at the depravity of what he put them through, as US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports
R&B singer R Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison by a US court in New York for masterminding an elaborate scheme to entice and sexually exploit young aspiring singers and children.
A jury found Kelly, 55, guilty of racketeering relating to bribery and forced labour, and other counts last year at a trial that was seen as a signature moment in the #MeToo movement.
His prolific sexual abuse led him to being labelled the "the pied piper of R&B" by one of his victims.
At his sentencing on Wednesday, the court heard victim impact statements from seven women, presented anonymously to the court as Jane Does, who detailed Kelly’s “God-like complex” and how he used his “fame and power” to entice his victims.
A woman using the pseudonym Angela told him: “The pied piper of R&B, both in music and in technique and in approach.
“Success and love… you presented these glittering gems as if they were gold.
“With every addition of a new victim you grew in wickedness, cockiness, diminishing any form of humanity or self-awareness, which soon became the breeding ground for your God-like complex."
'You taught them that love is enslavement and violence,' judge says
In her sentencing remarks, Judge Ann Donnelly told Kelly: “Having your minions troll for young people at the mall… handing out your phone number… for the opportunity to meet R Kelly. “You fancied yourself a genius that can do ‘whatever I want because of what I give to the world’.
“You taught them that love is enslavement and violence,” she added.
Accuser's lawyer says Kelly was a 'skilled sexual predator'
Gloria Allred, a lawyer for some of Kelly’s accusers, said the singer used the power of his celebrity and his music business to "lure and to manipulate and to isolate and to denigrate many young girls". Calling the disgraced musician a "skilled sexual predator", she said victims refused to be intimidated by Kelly and "his enablers". "Much of the pain that they suffered because of him was evident as the victims read their victim impact statements today in court. They wanted the court to understand their pain." "While he is in custody, he will not be able to continue to sexually victimise any other underage girls."
Some of the survivors gave powerful statements following the sentencing.
"I started this journey 30 years ago. I was 14 years old when I encountered Robert Sylvester Kelly," Jovante Cunningham said.
"There wasn't a day in my life - up until this moment - that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for black and brown girls.
"I stand here very proud of my judicial system, very proud of my fellow survivors and very pleased with the outcome. 30 years did he do this and 30 years is what he got."
Lizzette Martinez, another survivor, said she never thought she would be here to see Kelly be held accountable "for the atrocious things that he did to children".
"I don't know what else to say except that I am grateful. I am grateful for today.
"And I am grateful that Robert Sylvester Kelly is away, will stay away and will not be able to harm anyone else."
'Together they were able to fight his power by becoming empowered young women themselves,' Gloria Allred said
Kelly's legal team intends to appeal sentence
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".
Ahead of his sentence being handed down, Kelly said he intended to appeal it whatever it was.Prosecutors had sought a minimum 25-year term, while the defence said a sentence of 10 years or less is all he deserves.
Speaking to reporters outside of court, Jennifer Bonjean, R Kelly's defence attorney, said today was "a hard day" as her client had been sentenced to a "serious" prison term.
"We believe that this enterprise is overcharged and that the second circuit court of appeal will see it that way," she said.
"For us it is just the beginning of the fight frankly.
"Obviously he is devastated - 30 years in prison is a whole life sentence for him," Ms Bonjean added.
'We were prepared for what the judge might impose,' R Kelly's defence attorney said
The Grammy-winning, multi-platinum-selling hitmaker is known for work including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet", a multi-part tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.Allegations that Kelly abused young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.
He was sued in 1997 by a woman who alleged sexual battery and sexual harassment while she was a minor, and he later faced criminal child pornography charges related to a different girl in Chicago.
A jury there acquitted him in 2008, and he settled the lawsuit.The Brooklyn federal court jury convicted him after hearing about how he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation prosecutors said amounted to a criminal enterprise.
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What did some of the testimony allege about Kelly's conduct?
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.According to testimony, Kelly gave several accusers herpes without disclosing he had an STI.
There was also testimony detailing a shaming video shot by Kelly of one victim showing her smearing faeces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
Outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct with young women and children was fuelled in part by the widely watched docu-series “Surviving R Kelly,” which gave voice to accusers who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were black women.Kelly has been jailed without bail since 2019.