R Kelly loses appeal to overturn 20-year sentence for child sex abuse

Jurors convicted the Grammy Award-winning R&B singer on three charges of producing child porn and three charges of enticement of minors for sex in Chicago in 2022

Kathleen Foody,Jacob Stolworthy
Friday 26 April 2024 19:25 BST
Related video: Trailer for Surviving R Kelly the docuseries

Disgraced music icon R Kelly was correctly sentenced to 20 years in prison in Chicago on child sex convictions, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

Jurors in 2022 convicted the Grammy Award-winning R&B singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, on three charges of producing child porn and three charges of enticement of minors for sex. He was sentenced to two decades in prison on the charges.

In his appeal, Kelly argued that Illinois’ former and shorter statute of limitations on child sex prosecutions should have applied to his Chicago case rather than current law permitting charges while an accuser is still alive.

He also argued that charges involving one accuser should have been tried separately from the charges tied to three other accusers due to video evidence that became a focal point of the Chicago trial.

State prosecutors have said the video showed Kelly abusing a girl. The accuser identified only as Jane testified for the first time that she was 14 when the video was taken.

The three-judge panel from the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Friday's ruling noted that jurors acquitted Kelly on 7 of the 13 counts against him “even after viewing those abhorrent tapes”.

The appeals court also rejected Kelly's argument that he should not have been prosecuted since the allegations occurred while Illinois law required prosecution of child sex crime charges within ten years. The panel labeled it an attempt by Kelly to elude the charges entirely after “employing a complex scheme to keep victims quiet”.

R Kelly leaving the Daley Center after a hearing in his child support case in Chicago in May 2019
R Kelly leaving the Daley Center after a hearing in his child support case in Chicago in May 2019 (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Kelly’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean did not immediately respond to a message left with her office seeking comment on Kelly’s behalf.

Prosecutors in Kelly's hometown of Chicago had sought an even tougher sentence, asking for 25 years. They also wanted a judge to not let that time begin until after Kelly completed a 30-year sentence imposed in 2022 in New York for federal racketeering and sex trafficking convictions.

Judge Harry Leinenweber rejected that ask, ordering that Kelly serve the 20 years from the Chicago case simultaneously with the New York sentence.

Kelly has separately appealed the New York sentence.

In arguments last month before the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, Ms Bonjean asked the panel to find that prosecutors improperly used a racketeering statute written to shut down organized crime to go after the singer.

The “I Believe I Can Fly” singer has faced consistent allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct throughout his career, which he has denied.

In 1994, then aged 27, Kelly married 15-year-old singer Aaliyah at a secret ceremony in Chicago. The marriage was later annulled after the teenager was found to have lied about her age on the marriage certificate.

Kelly faced further accusations of having sexual relations with underage women in 1996, 2001 and 2002.

He was charged with 21 counts of making child sexual abuse videos involving various sexual acts in June 2002, but was acquitted on all counts following trial in 2008.

In 2017, a new investigation by Buzzfeed claimed that Kelly had trapped six women in a sex “cult” having taken advantage of them after they approached him for help with their musical careers.

The singer was accused of controlling the women’s lives, including what they ate and wore, and when they slept, and keeping records of their sexual activity.

The article prompted more alleged victims to come forward, with a six-part documentary titled Surviving R Kelly airing on Lifetime in 2019. It detailed further allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct against the singer.

In July 2019, Kelly was arrested and charged with sex trafficking offences, including possession of child abuse images and obstruction of justice.

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