A federal judge sentenced R. Kelly to one additional year in prison following his child pornography and enticement charges, rejecting prosecutors’ requests for a 25-year term to be served on top of his existing 30-year sentence.
Judge Harry Leinenweber's decision comes after the R&B superstar was previously issued a 30-year sentence following his convictions in a separate federal case in New York. Officially, Leinenweber sentenced the disgraced singer to 20 years in prison, but 19 of those years will be served concurrently with his existing New York sentence.
Kelly will actually serve only one additional year in prison, following Thursday’s hearing.
“No matter what I do, Mr. Kelly is not going out the door today, he’s not going out the door in the next 10 years, he’s not going out the door in the next 20 years,” Leinenweber said.
In handing down the sentence, Leinenweber noted that the 56-year-old Kelly’s chances of surviving the New York sentence are “not good,” but if he were to follow the government’s recommendation and add on an additional 25 years, there would be no chance he’d ever leave prison alive.
Federal prosecutors asked had sought a 25-year prison sentence, to be served consecutive to his New York sentence, to account for the “indescribable harm” he caused his victims, including his then-underaged goddaughter “Jane.” Kelly’s victims on Thursday asked Leinenweber to sentence Kelly to the rest of his life in prison after they once again detailed the pain and suffering they endured at his hands.
“When I think of all that I have lost due to Robert Kelly, all I can do is cry,” Kelly’s goddaughter “Jane” wrote in her victim impact statement, which was read to the court Thursday by her attorney. “I will never get back what Robert Kelly took from me.”
In Chicago, Kelly was found guilty on three child pornography-related counts and three child enticement charges. He was acquitted on seven other counts, including a fourth child pornography count.
Jane, the government’s key witness, told jurors at trial that she indeed was the 14-year-old girl with Kelly in the three separate sex videos shown to jurors at trial. Prosecutors also alleged Kelly recorded a fourth tape with Jane and his ex-girlfriend Lisa Van Allen, but that tape was never shown to jurors in this case and Kelly was acquitted on the one charge relating to that video.
Prosecutors at trial walked jurors through the illicit sex tapes of Kelly with Jane, pointing out how he repeatedly referred to Jane’s “14-year-old” body parts, sexually abused her and urinated on the girl.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng pointed to Kelly's "absolute depravity” in preying on children in arguing for a sentence that would confine him to prison for the rest of his life.
She said Kelly used Jane as a “sex prop” in the illicit videos, which “forever memorialized her abuse” and became part of the “social record” when made public.
‘Robert Kelly is no saint’
Three of Kelly’s victims — “Jane,” “Nia” and “Pauline" — addressed the court in person or through representatives Thursday.
Jane said she was left “fractured and broken” by the sexual abuse she suffered and described Kelly as abusive and dominating. She said she sometimes didn’t eat for days when she was with him, and wouldn’t be allowed to use the bathroom without his permission.
In her statement, Jane described feelings of suicide and said she must deal everyday with the “brokenness of my life.” She also referenced the explicit sex tapes showing her abuse at Kelly’s hands, saying she will always be known as the girl Kelly urinated on.
“Let me be clear: Robert Kelly is no saint,” she wrote in her statement. “Does anyone really believe Robert is not in those sex tapes … Does anyone believe that what happened to me is OK?”
Federal prosecutors have said Jane didn’t testify at that 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County because Kelly and his associates hid her and her family away from law enforcement. Kelly was ultimately acquitted in that case.
Nia, who also testified at trial about her own abuse, told the court that “no child should have to suffer self-hate like the way you made me suffer.”
“Now you are here in this courtroom because there is something wrong with you,” she said.
Pauline said when she first met Kelly she thought she “was going to conquer the world with him.” But when her abuse began, she felt she had to live a “double life” because her family couldn’t know what she was going through.
“I don’t trust anyone with my children,” she said Thursday, “because I know first-hand how that can go.”
U.S. Attorney John Lausch said the 20 total years Kelly received represents an “impactful” sentence, but added that he’s “absolutely” disappointed more of that time won’t be served on top of Kelly’s New York sentence.
“Twenty years is a significant sentence and we are happy that that was imposed in this case,” he said. “That does ensure the safety of the community for those years, at least based on the facts in this particular case.”
Lawyer argues significant mitigating evidence
Both Milton “June” Brown and Kelly’s former business manager Derrel McDavid — who went to trial alongside the singer last year — were acquitted on charges they covered up that abuse by concealing illicit video tapes.
Prosecutors argued Kelly has repeatedly deflected blame and “does not comprehend that what he did was wrong.”
“Indeed, Kelly’s celebrity status was a tool he used to facilitate the sexual abuse of children and is an aggravating factor in many ways,” the government wrote in its sentencing memorandum. “Kelly’s celebrity status magnified the power imbalance between Kelly and Jane, Pauline, and Nia. Their guards were down because he was such a public figure and in the public eye. And his allure was extraordinary.”
Kelly’s defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean has taken issue with the government’s claim that Kelly has shown no remorse for his crimes, stating that she’s advised her client to remain silent while he still faces criminal charges in Minnesota and has an ongoing appeal to his New York conviction.
“The government is not in Kelly’s head and cannot say what he feels or thinks; it should refrain from using his Fifth Amendment privilege against him,” Bonjean wrote this month. “When federal and state prosecuting agencies stop indicting him, Kelly might be in a position to speak more freely about his regrets … it is hard to know when that will be.”
Bonjean argued there’s significant mitigating evidence that would call for a concurrent sentence. She pointed to the sexual abuse Kelly himself suffered as a child, and his “horrific” upbringing, which she said shaped her client’s view of “women, sex and the world.”
“If that doesn’t shake someone's world view, I don’t know what would,” Bonjean said.
After the hearing, Bonjean called Leinenweber's decision a "win" for her client, but added that no matter what happened today, it’s like Kelly will remain in prison for the rest of his life.
While he remains under indictment in Minnesota, one trial Kelly won’t face is in Cook County, where State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced last month that her office would be dropping its case against the singer — nearly four years after he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and abuse.
In making her decision, Foxx pointed to the Kelly's New York sentence and the anticipated additional time he would receive Thursday.
“I believe that justice has been served,” Foxx told WTTW News.
After Thursday's hearing, Foxx's office issued a statement that said: "We hope that the victims find closure and comfort in the fact that Mr. Kelly will spend the majority of the rest of his life in prison."