Federal prosecutors Thursday asked a judge to give singer R. Kelly 25 more years in prison for his child pornography and enticement convictions last year in Chicago, which would add to 30 years he recently began serving in a New York case.
The 56-year-old wouldn’t be eligible for release until he was around 100 if the judge agrees both to the 25-year sentence and another government request that Kelly begin serving his Chicago sentence only after the 30-year New York sentence is fully served.
In their sentencing recommendation filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, prosecutors described Kelly’s behaviour as “sadistic,” calling him “a serial sexual predator” with no remorse and who “poses a serious danger to society.”
“The only way to ensure Kelly does not reoffend is to impose a sentence that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life,” the 37-page government filing says.
Kelly’s sentencing in Chicago is set for Thursday next week.
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, wrote in a filing last week that even with his existing 30-year New York sentence, “Kelly would have to defy all statistical odds to make it out of prison alive.” She cited data that the average life expectancy of inmates is 64.
She recommended a sentence of around 10 years, at the low end of the sentencing guidelines range, which she said could be served simultaneously with the New York sentence.
In arguing for the lesser sentence, Bonjean alleged Kelly, who is Black, was singled out for behaviour that she said white rock stars have gotten away with for decades.
“None have been prosecuted and none will die in prison,” she wrote.
Prosecutors acknowledged that a 25-year sentence in the Chicago case would be more time than even sentencing guidelines recommend. But they argued imposing a long sentence and instructing it be served only after the New York sentence was appropriate.
“A consecutive sentence is eminently reasonable given the egregiousness of Kelly’s conduct,” the filing argued. “Kelly’s sexual abuse of minors was intentional and prolific.”
At the trial in Chicago last year, jurors convicted the Grammy Award-winning singer on six of 13 counts. But the government lost the marquee count that Kelly and his then-business manager successfully rigged his state child pornography trial in 2008.
Both of Kelly’s co-defendants, including longtime business manager Derrel McDavid, were acquitted of all charges.
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, rose from poverty in Chicago to superstardom, becoming known for smash hit I Believe I Can Fly and sex-infused songs such as Bump n’ Grind.
While the singer went to trial in 2008, it wasn’t until after the airing of Lifetime’s 2019 docuseries Surviving R. Kelly — featuring testimonials by his accusers — that criminal investigations were kicked into high-gear, ending with federal and new state charges.
In January, an Illinois judge dismissed state sex-abuse charges prior to a trial on the recommendation of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. Foxx said she was comfortable dropping the case because Kelly would spend decades in prison for his federal convictions.
Portrayed as manipulative
Prosecutors at Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago portrayed him as a master manipulator who used his fame and wealth to reel in star-struck fans to sexually abuse, in some cases to video record them, and then discard them.
After deliberating over two days, jurors convicted Kelly of three counts each of producing child pornography and enticement of minors for sex, while acquitting him of obstruction of justice, one count of production of child porn and three counts of receiving child porn.
The Chicago verdict came months after a federal judge in New York sentenced Kelly to 30 years in prison for racketeering and sex trafficking. Based on that sentence alone, he wouldn’t eligible for release until he is around 80.
Even if granted time off for good behaviour, Kelly would be only be eligible for release if he serves 25 years after the New York sentence in the year 2066, the government’s Thursday filing said.
It will be up to Judge Harry Leinenweber in Chicago to decide the crucial question of whether Kelly serves whatever sentence he imposes concurrently, simultaneously, with the New York sentence or consecutively.
Kelly’s legal team is appealing his New York and Chicago convictions. Prosecutors sometimes press for long sentences for defendants sentenced at earlier trials in a bid to ensure that, if some convictions are later tossed, they will still do some time behind bars.
Bonjean argued that traumas throughout Kelly’s life, including abuse as a child and illiteracy throughout adulthood, justified leniency in sentencing the singer.
Kelly “is not an evil monster but a complex (unquestionably troubled) human-being who faced overwhelming challenges in childhood that shaped his adult life,” she said.
That the conduct for which he was convicted occurred decades ago should also be factored in, she said.
“While Kelly was not a child in the late 1990s, he also was not the middle-aged man he was at the time of his 2019 indictment,” she argued. “Kelly was a damaged man in his late 20s.”
She added that Kelly has already paid a heavy price from his legal troubles, including a financial one. She said his worth once approached $1 billion US, but that he “is now destitute.”