After more than 25 years of accusations and a federal court trial in New York that lasted seven weeks, R&B singer R. Kelly has been found guilty of charges including sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, racketeering and sex trafficking involving five victims. Kelly faces a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
Kelly sat absolutely still as the foreperson gave the jury's verdict to Judge Ann Donnelly.
Fourteen alleged underlying acts were associated with the racketeering charge. The jury found that the government had proved 12 of those acts, which involved five victims: the singer Aaliyah as well as women named Stephanie, Jerhonda Pace, Jane and Faith. Two acts associated with an alleged victim named Sonja were not proved. (Most alleged victims went by their first names or pseudonyms.) The government needed proof of only two of the racketeering acts for a guilty charge.
Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York successfully proved to a jury of seven men and five women that Kelly had been the head of a criminal enterprise whose purpose was to lure girls, boys and women to the R&B singer for his sexual gratification.
On top of awaiting sentencing in this New York case, Kelly will face a second federal trial on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice in Illinois. Some of those accusations are related to a 2008 child pornography trial in Chicago in which he was acquitted of all charges.
Additionally, Kelly faces outstanding criminal charges in both Cook County, Ill., where he was indicted by the state attorney in February 2019 for aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims (three of them minors), and in Minnesota, where Kelly was charged in August 2019 with engaging in prostitution with a minor.
Sentencing in New York is scheduled for May 4.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Disgraced R&B star R. Kelly has been found guilty of charges, including the sexual exploitation of children, bribery, racketeering and sex trafficking involving five victims. NPR arts correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas was at the courthouse throughout the trial and for today's verdict. Hi, Anastasia.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Walk us through these guilty verdicts.
TSIOULCAS: Sure thing. Well, the government had charged R. Kelly with eight counts of sex trafficking as well as racketeering, meaning that he had run a criminal enterprise for the specific purpose of luring in victims for sex crimes. The racketeering charge included 14 alleged acts within it, including sexual exploitation of children, forced labor and sex trafficking. And with racketeering charges, interestingly, the jury only had to find two of those acts proven in order to find him guilty. And this jury actually found 12 of the acts proven. The evidence was just that overwhelming. But there was one woman named Sonya who accused him of kidnapping and sexual assault. Her allegations were not proven. And the other victims - the ones whose charges were proven or the ones related to them were chosen - include the late singer Aaliyah, his former protege, as many people know, as well as four other women named Stephanie, Jerhonda, Jane and Faith. And most of them testified under first names only or with pseudonyms.
SHAPIRO: So that was the verdict. Walk us through how the trial went leading up to today.
TSIOULCAS: We were here for seven weeks of testimony - a lot of very grueling testimony for the victims. After that, the jury deliberated for nine hours. And while we were waiting today, while they deliberated, we journalists spent a chunk of today hearing some very graphic, humiliating and upsetting audio of Kelly abusing several women - audio taken from video the jury had seen, but we and the public had not seen that video. But we got to hear the audio today.
SHAPIRO: Allegations followed Kelly around for decades. Remind us how they first started coming to light.
TSIOULCAS: Yeah, the first reporting on R. Kelly appeared in the year 2000 in the Chicago Sun-Times, so it's been a very long road. And of course, there's been a lot of recent reporting, including in the Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" and in journalist Jim DeRogatis' book "Soulless." The momentum around this case has really built up quite a bit, not just in terms of the larger MeToo movement, but in terms of evidence piling up specifically against Kelly.
SHAPIRO: So what possible sentence does he face?
TSIOULCAS: Well, this is actually a two-part thing. There's the sentence and then some other things going on, Ari. The government here in New York tells us that Kelly faces a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison, and sentencing for that is scheduled for May 4. Then on top of that, there's also going to be a second federal trial in Chicago. That one is on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice. And then there are two more sets of criminal charges involving minors - one in Cook County, Ill., and one in Minnesota.
SHAPIRO: What was Kelly's demeanor like in court today?
TSIOULCAS: He sat absolutely stock-still, Ari, as the foreperson delivered the jury's verdict. He was more visibly nervous during the government's closing arguments last week. He was rocking back and forth really fast in his chair and doing things like rubbing his temples. But today, we really couldn't see very much because most of the media were watching from a video feed in an overflow courtroom, and he was masked anyway. So we couldn't see any subtle expressions today, but he was extremely still.
SHAPIRO: Can you tell us a little bit about what this means for the larger #MeToo movement to hold men accountable for their mistreatment of women?
TSIOULCAS: Sure. I think one of the most important things to note about the R. Kelly trial in particular is that mostly the accusers were Black women, and that's a watershed moment. In closing arguments, prosecutors made reference to the fact that these women's lives mattered, and I think a lot of people heard the advocation of Black Lives Matter in that phrasing.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas, who was at the court where R. Kelly was convicted of the charges against him. Joining us from there, we could hear the background noise, thank you so much, Anastasia.
TSIOULCAS: Thank you, Ari.
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