A federal judge on Thursday handed singer R. Kelly a 20-year prison sentence for his convictions of child pornography and the enticement of minors for sex but said he will serve nearly all of the sentence simultaneously with a 30-year sentence imposed last year on racketeering charges.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber also ordered that Kelly serve one year in prison following his New York sentence.
The central question going into the sentencing in Kelly’s hometown of Chicago was whether Leinenweber would order that the 56-year-old serve the sentence simultaneously with or only after he completes the New York term for 2021 racketeering and sex trafficking convictions. The latter would have been tantamount to a life sentence.
Prosecutors had acknowledged that a lengthy term served only after the New York sentence could have erased any chance of Kelly ever getting out of prison alive. It’s what they asked for, arguing his crimes against children and lack of remorse justified it.
With Thursday’s sentence, though, Kelly will serve no more than 31 years. That means the 56-year-old Grammy Award winner will be eligible for release at around age 80, providing him some hope of one day leaving prison alive.
Leinenweber said at the outset of the hearing that he did not accept the government’s contention that Kelly used fear to woo underage girls for sex.
“The (government’s) whole theory of grooming, was sort of the opposite of fear of bodily harm,” the judge told the court. “It was the fear of lost love, lost affections (from Kelly)’. … It just doesn’t seem to me that it rises to the fear of bodily harm.”
A calm Kelly spoke briefly at the start of the hearing, when the judge asked him if he had reviewed key presentencing documents for any inaccuracies.
“Your honor, I have gone over it with my attorney,” Kelly said. “I’m just relying on my attorney for that.”
Jurors in Chicago convicted Kelly last year on six of 13 counts: three counts of producing child porn and three of enticement of minors for sex.
Kelly rose from poverty in Chicago to become one of the world’s biggest R&B stars. Known for his smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and for sex-infused songs such as “Bump n’ Grind,” he sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.
In presentencing filings, prosecutors described Kelly as “a serial sexual predator” who used his fame and wealth to reel in, sexually abuse and then discard star-struck fans.
In filings, Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean said he has suffered enough, including financially. She said his worth once approached $1 billion, but that he “is now destitute.”
In court Thursday, Bonjean said Kelly will be lucky to survive his 30-year New York sentence alone and argued that Kelly’s silence should not be viewed as a lack of remorse.
She said that while she advised Kelly not to speak because he continues to appeal his convictions and could face other legal action, “He would like to, he would like to very much.”