R Kelly has been found guilty of all counts in his federal sex trafficking case and faces decades in prison.
The disgraced R&B singer was charged with one count of racketeering rooted in alleged sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, and forced labor. Additionally, he was charged with eight counts of violating the Mann Act, a law that criminalizes transporting someone across state lines “with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” Kelly pleaded not guilty to all charges, but on Monday a jury convicted him on all nine counts.
Kelly, 54, faces a possible sentence of a decade to life in prison. Sentencing is set for May 4th, 2022.
Over the span of 20 days, prosecutors called on 45 different witnesses to give testimonies, 11 of whom were Kelly’s victims. Prosecutors also presented the jury with a wide range of evidence, including text messages between Kelly and his victims. They also showed video and audio recordings Kelly made with his victims, which he then used as collateral to ensure “these women wouldn’t talk.”
The biggest part of the federal government’s case against Kelly was the racketeering charge, which positioned him as the head of a criminal enterprise, punishable with up to 20 years in prison. In her opening statement during the first day of the trial, Assistant United States Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez emphasized this and described Kelly as a “predator… who used his fame, popularity and the individuals at his disposal to target and groom girls, boys and young women for his sexual gratification.”
Before the jury entered the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to offer evidence of Kelly’s sexual abuse dating back to 1991 — during which time Kelly was briefly married to Aaliyah, then only 15 years old. (After learning Aaliyah was pregnant, Kelly bribed a government employee in Illinois to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah so that they could get married.) Judge Donnelly also allowed prosecutors’ request to hear evidence that Kelly knowingly gave two women herpes in 2001, as well as evidence that he gave the sexually transmitted disease to a minor in 1995.
With this guilty verdict, the entertainment industry continues to reckon with its long history of unchecked abuse. During his three-decade musical career, Kelly had two No. 1 hits, “Bump N’ Grind,” and the Celine Dion colllaboration “I’m Your Angel,” as well as cultural touchstones like “Ignition (Remix),” and “I Believe I Can Fly.” Along the way, he amassed enough wealth and power to fuel a criminal sex trafficking operation, according to this jury. But while he is just now facing legal consequences for his actions, at almost no point were his sexual violations a secret.
Aaliyah’s underage marriage to Kelly was annulled in 1995, and he was sued for inflicting distress on girls in 1996, 2001, and 2002. That year saw another court case over nonconsensual video surveillance (the infamous urination tape, settled out of court), as well as formal charges on 21 counts of making child pornography (the prosecution didn’t prove the alleged victim was underaged, according to that jury). But he wouldn’t face consequences until 2017, when Buzzfeed reported on six women trapped in Kelly’s sex “cult.” This long overdue answer of ‘guilty’ will likely go down as one of the most significant moments of the #MeToo era.
And Kelly’s not done yet. Besides this federal case in New York, Kelly is facing a similar federal indictment in Illinois, as well as state charges in Illinois and Minnesota. And while that seems like a lot, it doesn’t even include the new charges against him that continue to surface; back in July, Kelly was accused of sexual contact with an underaged boy. Plus earlier this year, a former Kelly associate pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe a witness.
Additionally, while he was on trial in New York, Kelly lost multiple civil battles, including to a woman who won $4 million in a lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing her when she was 16, and to the landlord of his former recording studio. It’s no wonder nobody will buy his song catalog right now.