What to Know
- After a weeks-long federal sex trafficking trial, R. Kelly has been found guilty on all counts by a federal jury in Brooklyn Monday.
- The New York case was only part of the legal peril facing the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota
- Kelly faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on May 4.
After a weeks-long federal sex trafficking trial, R. Kelly has been found guilty on all counts by a federal jury in Brooklyn Monday.
The anonymous jury made up of seven men and five women who have listened to witnesses and defenses from the R&B singer's lawyer for over the past month announced they reached a verdict Monday afternoon.
Kelly was charged with one count of racketeering, which has 14 underlying acts including kidnapping, forced labor, sex trafficking and bribery. The singer was also charged with eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which makes it illegal to transport anyone across state lines for any immoral purpose.
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Although Kelly was found guilty of all counts, he was found not guilty of two racketeering acts relating to a radio intern. The government had to prove at least two of the 14 underlying acts related to the racketeering charge.
The jury took nine hours in deliberations before coming to the verdict. Kelly wore a face mask below black-rimmed glasses, remaining motionless with eyes downcast, as the verdict was read in federal court in Brooklyn. He did close his eyes a few times.
Kelly faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on May 4.
Jacquelyn Kasulis, the interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York who prosecuted the case, called Kelly "a predator" and said that "justice was finally served."
"Today's guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification," Kasulis said in a press conference following the verdict, adding that Kelly is "a predator who used his inner circle to ensnare underage girls, and young men and women, for decades in a sordid web of sex abuse, exploitation and humiliation."
Kasulis and attorney Gloria Allred, who represented three of the six accusers, recognized their bravery in coming forward and testifying against Kelly. Allred also said that of all the predators she’s gone after — a list including Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein — “Mr. Kelly is the worst.”
"I have been practicing law for 47 years. During this time I have pursued many sexual predators who have committed crimes against women and children. Of all the predators that I have pursued, however, Mr. Kelly is the worst -- for many reasons," Allred said. "First, he used the power of celebrity to recruit vulnerable, underage girls for the purpose of sexually abusing them...Second, he used the power of his business enterprise and many of his inner circle employees to assist him and enable him...all of which made Mr. Kelly more powerful and more dangerous than many other sexual predators who operate."
Peter Fitzhugh, a Homeland Security investigations agent, said the verdict brought an end to Kelly’s “decade-long reign of terror over many vulnerable girls, boys and young women.”
Meanwhile, Kelly's lawyer, Deveraux Cannick, said he was disappointed by the verdict and hoped to appeal.
“I think I’m even more disappointed the government brought the case in the first place given all the inconsistencies,” Cannick said.
Kelly, 54, has repeatedly denied accusations that behind the scenes of a 30-year career highlighted by his 1996 megahit “I Believe I Can Fly,” he was a sexual predator who groomed and exploited his young victims. His lawyers have portrayed the accusers as groupies seeking to take advantage of his fame.
Though multiple female accusers and cooperating former associates who had never spoken publicly before about their experiences with Kelly, testified about how Kelly’s managers, bodyguards and other employees helped him recruit women and girls, and sometimes boys, for sexual exploitation.
Witnesses say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly in the New York City area and elsewhere, in violation of the Mann Act, the 1910 law that made it illegal to “transport any woman or girl” across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
The New York case was only part of the legal peril facing the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.
For years, the public and news media seemed to be more amused than horrified by allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors, starting with Kelly’s illegal marriage to the R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15.
His records and concert tickets kept selling. Other artists continued to record his songs, even after he was arrested in 2002 and accused of making a recording of himself sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl.
The women’s stories got wide exposure with the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” The series explored how an entourage of supporters protected Kelly and silenced his victims for decades, foreshadowing the federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed Kelly in jail in 2019. The docuseries helped make his case a signifier of the #MeToo era, and gave voice to alleged victims who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.
At the trial, several of Kelly’s accusers testified without using their real names to protect their privacy and prevent possible harassment by the singer’s fans. Jurors were shown homemade videos of Kelly engaging in sex acts that prosecutors said were not consensual.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez argued that Kelly was a serial abuser who “maintained control over these victims using every trick in the predator handbook.”
The defense labeled the accusers “groupies” and “stalkers.”
Cannick questioned why the alleged victims stayed in relationships with Kelly if they thought they were being exploited.
“You made a choice,” Cannick told one woman who testified, adding, “You participated of your own will.”
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has been jailed without bail since in 2019. The trial was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and Kelly’s last-minute shakeup of his legal team.
When it finally started on Aug. 18, prosecutors painted the singer as a pampered man-child and control freak. His accusers said they were under orders to call him “Daddy,” expected to jump and kiss him anytime he walked into a room, and to cheer only for him when he played pickup basketball games in which they said he was a ball hog.
The accusers alleged that they also 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.
Among the other more troubling tableaus: Kelly keeping a gun by his side while he berated one of his accusers as a prelude to forcing her to give him oral sex in a Los Angeles music studio; Kelly giving several accusers herpes without disclosing he had an STD; Kelly coercing a teenage boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage; and Kelly shooting a shaming video of one alleged victim showing her smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
Some of the most harrowing testimony came from a woman who said Kelly took advantage of her in 2003 when she was an unsuspecting radio station intern. She testified he whisked her to his Chicago recording studio, where she was kept locked up and was drugged before he sexually assaulted her while she was passed out.
When she realized she was trapped, “I was scared. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed,” she said.
She said one of R. Kelly’s employees warned her to keep her mouth shut about what had happened.
Other testimony focused on Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah. One of the final witnesses described seeing him sexually abusing her around 1993, when Aaliyah was only 13 or 14.
Jurors also heard testimony about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated Aaliyah. 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, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, 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.
For the Brooklyn trial, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly barred people not directly involved in the case from the courtroom in what she called a coronavirus precaution. Reporters and other spectators had to watch on a video feed from another room in the same building.
The trial came at a close more than a decade after Kelly was acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case in Chicago.