He famously sang, “I can believe I can fly,” and many of his devoted fans believed him.
But on Wednesday, a federal judge clipped the wings of music superstar R. Kelly sentencing him to 30 years in prison for racketeering and sex trafficking charges that stemmed from years of assaulting numerous young girls in several states.
Many of those young girls were fans whom the singer betrayed. Some were featured in two damning documentaries, the 2019 “Surviving R. Kelly” and the 2020 “The Reckoning,” which exposed his crimes.
“You left in your wake a trail of broken lives,” Federal Judge Ann Donnelly told Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly. The judge conceded that the abuse Kelly suffered as a child may have contributed to his crimes.
“It may explain, at least in part, what led to your behavior,” Donnelly said. “It most surely is not an excuse.”
Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said her client accepts that “he is a flawed individual.”
“But he is not this one-dimensional monster that the government has portrayed, and the media has portrayed,” Bonjean asserted.
Several victims vociferously disagreed. “It’s been 23 years since we knew each other, and you’ve victimized a lot of girls since then,” one of Kelly’s victims said in court. The victim has chosen to go by Jane Doe instead of her real name.
“Now it’s your turn to have your freedom taken from you,” she said.
In September 2021, a federal jury returned nine guilty verdicts against the singer, including the most severe racketeering charge and eight counts of Mann Act violations, defined as taking minors across state lines to commit a crime.
The trial included testimony from individuals involved in helping Kelly cover up his marriage to then 15-year-old Aaliyah. According to witnesses, the pair married after Kelly believed Aaliyah had become pregnant.
Following sentencing, authorities planned to move Kelly from New York to Chicago, where he’s facing another federal trial later this summer on charges of child pornography and criminal obstruction.
“We were prepared for it,” Bonjean said of the sentence. “We are now prepared to fight this appeal.”
Stacy M. Brown is an NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent.