30-year sentence for R. Kelly: a timeline of his crimes
R. Kelly, the now 55-year-old R&B star of the 90s, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison by the Brooklyn federal court. The charges against him include racketeering, trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, forced labor, and abuse.
Singer of hits like 'I Believe I can Fly,' R. Kelly was long rumoured to have 'girlfriends' that were far too much younger than him. For decades, there were accusations of abuse and exploitation which he always strongly denied. According to the prosecutor in his trial, Kelly had a network of enablers surrounding him who, applying the weight of his wealth and fame, helped the predator cover up his crimes.
Not only was the singer accused of abuse but also of trying to force his victims to drop their cases against him. The New York Times has reported that Kelly "made his victims write letters exonerating him." His extortion did not work in this case, though. "Instead, [the letters] helped convict him."
The criminal case against R. Kelly went over 25 years of actions and shocking events. Let's have a look at the timeline of Kelly's controversies, starting in 1994 with his marriage to Aaliyah.
When R. Kelly was 27 years old and at the height of his fame, he famously married the teenage singer Aaliyah. As it turned out later, Kelly bribed an official to marry the 15-year-old Aaliyah, paying them to change the girl's date of birth. His former tour manager confirmed this claim during the 2020-21 trial.
R. Kelly had decided to marry Aaliyah after learning that she was pregnant. Allegedly, he was afraid of being prosecuted for relations with a minor and hoped that marriage would prevent Aaliyah from ever testifying against him. Aaliyah - who recorded hit songs like 'Try Again' and Are You That Somebody' - would tragically die in a plane crash in 2001.
When he married Aaliyah, the singer was already in the picture with law enforcers as a suspect of abuse. Aaliyah was one of his first and most visible victims. The album he wrote and produced for her, was tellingly titled 'Age Ain't Nothing But A Number.' In 1995, the marriage would be annulled.
As court documents recently revealed, the singer had a relationship with 15-year-old Tiffany Hawkins when he was 24. It lasted from 1991 to 1994, the year in which he married Aaliyah. In 1996, Tiffany Hawkins sought $10 million in damages for "personal injuries and severe emotional harm" during their three-year relationship. She was awarded $250,000.
A former intern at R. Kelly's record company, Tracy Sampson, sued the singer in 2001 for pressuring her into an "indecent" relationship when she was 17 years old. She also speaks of emotional abuse and controlling behaviour, the New York Post reports. The case was reportedly settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Two women accused Kelly in 2002 of improper and criminal acts. A Chicago woman said he impregnated her when she was underage and then forced her to get an abortion. Another woman accused the singer of filming her without consent during their relations. The recording was reportedly circulated by smugglers under the name 'R. Kelly Triple-X.' Both cases were settled out of court with an unknown sum in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement.
Kelly was indicted by Chicago police for filming himself with minors whom he forced to participate in the racy videos. He was arrested after a video was anonymously submitted to the Chicago Sun Times. The singer posted bail of $750,000 and denied the charges.
It took six years for his case to go to trial. During this period, R. Kelly released an album, 'Trapped In The Closet,' that was very well received. The singer was even nominated for an NAACP Image Award, despite criticism from the young victim's advocates. In the trial, the jury ended up concluding that it could not be proven that the girl on the tape was underage. R. Kelly was found not guilty.
Arrested at his Florida vacation home, Kelly faced 12 other counts of producing content featuring children. Police seized a camera containing images of the singer with a minor. However, the charges were dropped after a judge ruled that police had lacked sufficient evidence to justify a search.
A Buzzfeed article accused R. Kelly of having trapped six women in a "cult." He would have lured the young women with the promise of helping them with their careers and then taken control of their lives. According to the article, Kelly dictated to them "what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in s***al encounters which he records."
He also allegedly confiscated their cell phones so as to prevent them from making contact with their families. The accusations in the Buzzfeed article came from three former employees and the parents of several women who said that their daughters had all but disappeared.
R. Kelly denied the accusations. Subsequently, one of the women involved (Joycelyn Savage, left) denied any comments about being held against her will. "I'm not being brainwashed or something like that," she said, while refusing to reveal where she was staying or elaborating on her relationship with the singer.
The Buzzfeed article led to further accusations, among others by Jerhonda Pace, who broke a nondisclosure agreement to talk about her relationship as a teenager with R. Kelly. Another woman, Kitti Jones (photo) said the singer had starved and abused her. Along with other members of R. Kelly's inner circle, she spoke up in a BBC Three documentary in March 2018.
Following the BBC documentary, a #MuteRKelly campaign began to insist that his record company, concert promoters, ticket sellers and streaming services sever ties with the singer and stop playing his music. He continued to perform, facing protests outside the venues of his shows.
In the documentary series 'Surviving R. Kelly,' a number of his victims spoke out about past abuses. It also showed a few parents trying to rescue their daughters, whom they hadn't seen for years, and his former staff admitting that they enabled him to groom and abuse young women. According to the New York Times, it was this particular documentary that "catalyzed the case against the singer."
Two weeks after the documentary aired, R. Kelly's record label dropped him. Several concerts were cancelled. Shortly thereafter, the singer was once again indicted in Chicago on 10 counts of aggravated criminal abuse. He pleaded not guilty and defended himself in an unhinged, surreal television interview with Gayle King on CBS.
(Image: CBS News, The Gayle King Interview with R. Kelly)
Prosecutors subsequently filed 11 other charges of assault and abuse against minors aged 13 to 16. The details of the acts described in those indictments were very distressing. All in all, R. Kelly now faced two separate federal charges in Illinois and New York. They described an organized effort by the star and his associates to recruit and transport underage girls across state borders for illegal purposes including the production of videos.
The charges also involved a conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying evidence and bribing or threatening witnesses. The federal judge in Brooklyn refused his release on bail because of "the strong possibility of witness tampering" at the upcoming trial.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Minnesota charged Kelly with prostitution. He therefore had to face criminal cases in three US states.
The trial against Kelly was postponed for six months because prosecutors had obtained more than 100 electronic devices, including smartphones, iPads and hard drives from a warehouse containing the star's touring equipment. They also updated the charges against the star, adding another victim to the case.
In the summer of 2020, three of R. Kelly's associates were accused of attempting to intimidate, harass and pay alleged victims in the racketeering case. According to the prosecutors, one victim was offered $500,000 to buy her silence while another was threatened with the circulation of 'revenge' photos. A third witness discovered that her car had been set on fire in her driveway. In this case, one of Kelly's associates pleaded guilty to the arson, while another admitted to having tried to bribe a witness.
Two months before the start of his trial, R. Kelly's lawyers requested to step down. They said it was "impossible" for them to work alongside the new lawyers Kelly had hired. "You cannot save someone from themselves," they say.
On September 27, after a six-week trial with eleven accusers, R. Kelly was found guilty on all charges against him. It had taken the jury two days to make this decision, which indicates that they were quickly convinced by the evidence. The disgraced star will be sentenced on May 4, 2022, and he may get 10 years to life in prison.
In response to the verdict, one victim was quoted by BBC as saying: "I'm ready to start living my life free from fear and to start the healing process."
Gloria Allred, the lawyer who represented several of the victims, told the press: "I've been practising law for 47 years... Of all the predators that I have pursued, Mr Kelly is the worst."