On Monday (Sept. 27), disgraced R&B singer Robert Sylvester Kelly, known as R. Kelly, was found guilty of all nine charges brought against him by the government, including racketeering and sex trafficking.
The verdict was delivered after two days of deliberation by the jury, which consisted of seven men and five women. The relatively quick turnaround on the verdict could mean the jury was in agreement on most counts. Kelly, who was previously acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case, faces up to life in prison.
The verdict comes after five weeks of arguments, physical evidence (some not shown to the public) and 45 witness testimonies from the prosecution alone. During closing arguments, federal prosecutor Nadia Shihata addressed the defense’s portrayal of Kelly as a naive bystander stating that “the defendant is not the victim here. He’s not unlucky, he’s guilty.”
The actual victims–eight Jane Does and two John Does–recounted horrific episodes with Kelly, including experiencing and witnessing gruesome abuse. His previous employees and associates, many of which stood back as the crimes occurred, corroborated the testimonies of victims. The details of Kelly’s marriage to an underage Aaliyah were brought to the surface and used to support the government’s case against Kelly for bribery. While most of the industry was aware of what happened to the beloved R&B singer at the hands of Kelly over two decades ago, this case is the first time Kelly has been held accountable by the law in relation to the illegal marriage.
During the five-week trial, the prosecution held the burden of proof, arguing to convince a jury that Kelly was knowingly using his musical “enterprise” as “a vehicle for crime,” mainly involving sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors. This point was crucial in hammering down the racketeering charge, at the heart of the case. The defense on the other hand, did their best to poke holes in the testimony of witnesses, who they described as “disgruntled groupies,” emphasize the normalcy of Kelly’s lifestyle in comparison to other “superstars,” and reference Kelly’s rumored illiteracy as evidence of his inability to successfully run a criminal enterprise.
In addition to racketeering, Kelly was also found guilty on eight violations of the The Mann Act, established in 1910 to criminalize the trafficking of women for prostitution or “immoral” purposes.
“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 — a predator who used his inner circle to ensnare underage girls and young men and women for decades an assorted web of sex abuse, exploitation and humiliation,” said acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis in a press conference after verdict was read. “To the victims in this case, your voices were heard and justice was finally served.”
She continued: “I applaud their courage in revealing in open court the painful, intimate and horrific details of their lives with him. No one deserves what they experienced at his hands or the threats and harassment they faced in telling the truth about what happened to them. We hope that todays verdict brings some measure of comfort and closure to the victims.”
“We are disappointed with the verdict,” Kelly’s lawyer told Billboard in an emailed statement. “The use of the RICO statute in this manner is an aberration. As it was demonstrated during the trial, the RICO ‘Enterprise’ was based on nothing more than a series of independent relationships and events the government patched together like different types of fabrics and passed it off as silk.”
Kelly will now await his sentence, to be determined by Judge Ann M. Donnelly on May 4, 2022. As well, he awaits an upcoming trial later this year for two other cases — in Illinois for child pornography and obstruction, and Minnesota for a child prostitution charge.