A federal judge in Illinois has sentenced R. Kelly to 20 years in prison for his conviction on child pornography charges, but the decree effectively only tacks on an additional year to the disgraced singer’s already lengthy term behind bars.
The sentencing decision by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on Thursday is a relative victory for Kelly, who is currently serving a 30-year sentence on federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges in New York. Prosecutors in Illinois had requested a 25-year sentence and asked Leinenweber to make that sentence run consecutively — not concurrently — to the New York sentence, essentially ensuring that Kelly, 56, would die in prison.
Leinenweber denied that request, instead sentencing Kelly to 20 years on the charges, 19 of which could be served at the same time as his New York incarceration.
Kelly was convicted in September in Illinois of three counts of child pornography and three counts of criminal sexual abuse. Four victims had testified at trial that Kelly began to sexually abuse them when they were teens, some of them as young as 14 years old. Kelly was 30 at the time.
He had previously been convicted in New York federal court in September of 2021 after a jury found that he had engaged in a criminal enterprise in order to sexually abuse women, girls, and boys.
“At the age of 56 years old, Kelly’s lack of remorse and failure to grasp the gravity of his criminal conduct against children demonstrates that he poses a serious danger to society,” prosecutors had argued in a sentencing brief in the Illinois federal case. They accused Kelly of blaming his victims and said he showed “no signs of rehabilitation.”
Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean argued in her sentencing brief that Kelly is indeed a victim, and that the minor girls testifying against him had pursued the singer. She also implied that the government’s pursuit of a harsh sentence was at least partly motivated by racial bias, noting that several white musicians have been accused of sexual abuse but were not criminally charged.
“A 30-year sentence of imprisonment for an African American man with diabetes is a life sentence statistically speaking,” she wrote. Bonjean acknowledged that Kelly would be required to serve a 10-year minimum sentence, but asked Leinenweber to order that the sentences be served concurrently.
It was not immediately clear when the judge would make a decision on the government’s request for restitution for victims identified in pleadings as Jane, Pauline, and Nia. Prosecutors have determined that Jane is entitled to $10 million in restitution, and Pauline should get around $1.1 million. Kelly had previously cited Jane’s anticipated restitution amount as the basis for a request for a new trial, which Leinenweber denied.
State prosecutors in Illinois announced in January that they were dropping charges against him in light of the two federal court convictions.
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