After deliberating for two days, a federal jury in New York on Monday found American R&B superstar R. Kelly guilty of racketeering conspiracy and eight counts of sex trafficking.
The charges stemmed from accusations the 54-year-old singer had inappropriate relationships with minors, and that his managers and aides helped him meet girls and keep them “obedient and quiet,” the Associated Press reported.
The conviction marks a culmination of the grassroots #MuteRKelly campaign, aimed at encouraging people to protest his music and performances following decades of accusations against him. It’s also one of the highest-profile convictions in the #MeToo era, which has seen a number of figures in entertainment, politics and elsewhere face consequences for their abusive and destructive behavior.
“We hope this verdict brings some sense of justice to the brave survivors who came forward,” the Mute R Kelly group tweeted following news of the verdict.
Here’s more on Kelly and what led to the conviction.
Who is R. Kelly?
Born Robert Sylvester Kelly in Chicago, R. Kelly is a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and record producer. He’s perhaps best known for his most successful single, the chart-topping I Believe I Can Fly from the soundtrack to 1996 movie Space Jam. The song scored five nominations at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards, and won best male R&B vocal performance, best R&B song and best song written for visual media.
R. Kelly sold over 75 million records over his career, making him the most successful R&B recording artist of the ’90s. In 2010, Billboard named him the most successful R&B artist in history.
When did R. Kelly’s legal troubles begin?
R. Kelly’s legal issues go back decades.
According to reporting by Vibe and the Chicago Sun-Times, R. Kelly was illegally married to fellow R&B singer Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15 years old. Aaliyah claimed she had lied about her age, stating she was 18, but in 2021 Kelly admitted, through his lawyers, that he’d had underage sexual contact with Aaliyah.
Legal issues continued to plague Kelly. In 2002 a video, sent to the Chicago Sun-Times allegedly showed Kelly having underage sex with a minor. Kelly denied being the man in the video.
More recently, a Lifetime documentary in January 2019, titled Surviving R. Kelly, surfaced new testimonials about his alleged predation of young Black women and raised awareness of accusations against the singer.
Kelly was acquitted in a child pornography case in 2008 and has settled numerous lawsuits. He’s still facing several other charges in Chicago, including alleged sexual abuse and fixing his 2008 trial, the Chicago Tribune reported. He has plead not guilty to those charges, as well as to charges of solicitation in Minnesota.
R. Kelly’s New York sex trafficking trial
In total 11 accusers took the stand, nine women and two men. Kelly was accused of one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which criminalizes the transport of people across state lines for the “purpose of prostitution or debauchery.”
He was found guilty on all charges and could face 10 years to life in prison, according to NPR.
“Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R Kelly as a predator,” said Acting US attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis, “who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification.
“To the victims in this case, your voices were heard, and justice was finally served.”
Gloria Allred, a lawyer representing several of the victims claimed that “of all the predators” she pursued in the past, “Mr Kelly is the worst.”
Kelly did not testify in his own defence.
How did R. Kelly and his team respond to the verdict?
A mask-wearing Kelly remained motionless, with his eyes downcast, as the verdict was read, the AP reports. The law firm representing Kelly didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Addressing a crowd after the verdict, Kelly’s lawyer Deveraux Cannick said, “I’m sure we’ll be appealing.”
Speaking outside the courthouse, Gloria Allred, who represented several of Kelly’s accusers, referenced the length of time it took to get a conviction, saying, “We understand that justice moves at a glacial pace,” The New York Times reported.
How did the accusations impact R. Kelly’s music?
The controversy over Kelly had ripple effects on the music and streaming services business. In 2018, when a wave of backlash against R. Kelly crested, Spotify initiated a hateful conduct policy. The music-streaming service said it would remove songs or artists from its service or bury them without any promotion, like banning them from playlists, based on “hateful conduct.” Though R. Kelly wasn’t the sole trigger for the rule, his was the best-known music that fell under the policy.
But Spotify faced criticism about the new policy. As the biggest subscription music service in the world, some called it out for potentially determining the success or failure of artists’ careers based on enforcement decisions made behind closed doors without a process for appeal. And the rule was also criticized for seeming racial bias. The artists known to be affected by the new policy were Black, while many white musical artists, some of them revered as icons, faced allegations of violence or abuse in their pasts without any repercussions on Spotify.
Within a month of announcing it, Spotify backtracked on the policy, saying it would continue to crack down on hateful content itself but would move away from a policy around artist conduct.
When is sentencing?
Sentencing is May 4, 2022.
CNET reporter Joan E. Solsman contributed to this story.