R Kelly, the R&B superstar known for his anthem I Believe I Can Fly, deserves at least 25 years behind bars for sexually abusing women and girls, prosecutors said in a memo filed Wednesday in advance of his sentencing later this month.
A New York City jury found Kelly guilty of racketeering and multiple other counts last year at a sex-trafficking trial that was seen as a signature moment in the #MeToo movement. Prosecutors alleged that the entourage of managers and aides who helped Kelly meet girls – and ensure their obedience – amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified in lurid detail during the trial, alleging that Kelly subjected his victims to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
Kelly used his “fame, money and popularity” to systematically “prey upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification”, prosecutors wrote in the filing.
“He continued his crimes and avoided punishment for them for almost 30 years and must now be held to account,” prosecutors wrote.
Kelly’s lawyers have argued that he deserves only a maximum of about 17 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Among multiple sordid allegations, jurors heard testimony about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
The competing defense memo suggested prosecutors’ arguments for a higher sentence overreached by falsely claiming Kelly participated in the bribery of “a public aid officer to produce an identification card” that allowed the sham marriage to go forward.
Kelly’s lawyers also said it was wrong to assert he should get more time because he sexually abused one of his victims – referred to in court as “Jane” – after her parents innocently entrusted him to help her with her musical career.
“The record shows that Jane’s parents directed Jane to lie to the defendant about her age and then encouraged her to seduce him,” the papers say.
Kelly, 55, is scheduled to be sentenced on 29 June.