R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (2024)

Sept. 27, 2021, 7:00 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 7:00 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

R. Kelly is going to prison. Why did it take so long?

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R. Kelly Found Guilty on All Counts

The singer was convicted of federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges for a decades-long scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex. Once one of the biggest names in popular music, he could face decades in prison.

“Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless.” “Mr. Kelly is a prolific serial predator. Despite numerous reports of his destructive abuse over the years, Mr. Kelly’s brazen acts of intimidation against his accusers kept him shielded from prosecution.” “Kelly, after grooming, isolating and intimidating his child victims, recorded them being sexually abused and humiliated by him. He directed these videos and produced them, not only for his own sexual gratification, but in some instances for the purpose of using these videos to silence and threaten his victims with public exposure of these tapes if they ever revealed what he had done to them.” “Of course, Mr. Kelly is disappointed. He was not anticipating this verdict because based on the evidence, why should he anticipate this verdict? I’m sure — I’m sure we’ll be appealing.”

R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (2)

The conviction of R. Kelly on all nine counts against him came as a significant moment in the Me Too movement for both Black women and for the music industry, ushering in a sense that, finally, justice had been served.

But the verdict on Monday also prompted an obvious question: Women have said that the singer’s abuses began as early as the start of the 1990s — why did it take three decades for the singer to receive criminal punishment?

Here are a few possible answers:

The entertainer had an expansive network of enablers around him, federal prosecutors said, from his closest confidantes and employees to many in the music industry who knew of the concerns about his behavior but did not intervene.

The government drew attention to what has been described as the “settlement factory” that kept his accusers quiet, offering evidence of Mr. Kelly’s payments to women who made accusations in exchange for their silence.

And when that was not enough, Mr. Kelly “used his henchmen to lodge threats and exact revenge,” blackmailing women with nude photographs of themselves or embarrassing information, one prosecutor, Elizabeth Geddes, said in closing arguments.

Federal prosecutors also accused Mr. Kelly of paying witnesses to not cooperate with the authorities in the lead-up to his 2008 trial and acquittal. They said the singer let some witnesses know they could be “subject to physical harm” if they proceeded.

There are some cultural factors that may have helped Mr. Kelly avoid consequences for his behavior as well.

Legal experts and people who study sexual abuse have also suggested that the race of most of Mr. Kelly’s accusers likely played a role. Experts say Black women have historically been far more likely than white women to have their accusations about sexual misconduct distrusted or ignored.

“Our reality is that our society just does not view Black women and girls as credible,” said Kenyette Barnes, a co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign. “We assume that 15-year-old Black girls have the cognitive ability to manipulate a grown man.”

And some superstars have admitted that the race of the accusers shaped their perceptions in Mr. Kelly’s case.

“I didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were Black women,” Chance the Rapper, who is from the singer’s hometown, Chicago, said during the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary series.

Some of Mr. Kelly’s steadfast supporters continue to believe he is the victim of a larger, racist conspiracy to keep successful Black men from thriving, and that view was once more widespread in Black communities before his trial, experts note.

As a former television critic at The New York Times, Aisha Harris, said, two cultural touchstones —“Chappelle’s Show” and “The Boondocks” — also helped shape the perception of the accusations against R. Kelly through humor, keeping audiences amused instead of troubled.

The cultural climate has also changed dramatically since the allegations against Mr. Kelly first began to surface. After the singer pleaded not guilty to the charges that led to his 2008 trial, he performed alongside children at a church in Chicago the same day. He was embraced by the congregation.

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Sept. 27, 2021, 6:42 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 6:42 p.m. ET

Rebecca Davis O’Brien

reporting from the courthouse

R. Kelly will be sentenced in May, as other criminal charges move forward.

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R. Kelly is set to be sentenced at 10 a.m. on May 4 by the same federal judge who oversaw his racketeering and sex trafficking trial in Brooklyn. Mr. Kelly, 54, faces 10 years to life in prison.

The intervening months will be busy. In the next few weeks, Mr. Kelly’s lawyers can file motions seeking to overturn the verdict. Mr. Kelly also faces charges in at least two other states, including federal child p*rnography and obstruction counts in Chicago. That trial has been postponed several times, and a new date has not been set. A court conference in that case has been set for Oct. 20.

Mr. Kelly’s lawyer said he didn’t know if that trial would go forward before the sentencing, or if Mr. Kelly would be moved to Chicago from the Brooklyn detention facility where he has been held for the duration of the New York trial. But the Chicago case will proceed, and it is likely that Mr. Kelly will eventually be moved there to face those charges.

At the Brooklyn sentencing, Judge Ann M. Donnelly will be able to consider victim-impact statements and testimony from Mr. Kelly’s accusers, some of which will be filed with the court ahead of time.

Sept. 27, 2021, 6:18 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 6:18 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

Prosecutors thank R. Kelly’s accusers, saying verdict ‘forever brands’ him as a predator.

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Verdict ‘Forever Brands’ R. Kelly a Predator, Prosecutor Says

Federal prosecutors thanked the witnesses who testified against R. Kelly and commended the bravery of his victims after the singer was found guilty of running a decades-long scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex.

“Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator 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. This conviction would not have been possible without the bravery and resilience of R. Kelly’s victims. I applaud their courage in revealing in open court the painful, intimate and horrific details of their lives with him. No one deserves what they experienced at his hands, or the threats and harassment they faced in telling the truth about what happened to them.” “Mr. Kelly is a prolific serial predator. Despite numerous reports of his destructive abuse over the years, Mr. Kelly’s brazen acts of intimidation against his accusers kept him shielded from prosecution. In their failed attempt to evade justice, Mr. Kelly and his associates made one critical error. They underestimated the resilience and courage of the victims who refused to be silenced.”

After a New York jury convicted R. Kelly on all nine charges against him, federal prosecutors had a simple message for the people who testified against him: Thank you.

“Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own gratification,” Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, told a crowd of reporters and onlookers outside the federal courthouse on Monday.

She added: “We hope that today’s verdict brings some measure of comfort and closure to his victims.”

The first accusations against Mr. Kelly date back to the early 1990s, but he evaded criminal prosecution for years, even as additional women came forward, and he was acquitted of child p*rnography in 2008 after a sex-tape came to light that the authorities said depicted him with a 15-year-old girl.

Ms. Kasulis said that Mr. Kelly’s conviction on Monday delivered a powerful message to both the entertainer and other influential men: “No matter how long it takes, the long arm of the law will catch up with you.”

Addressing what he called a “decades-long reign of terror” inflicted by Mr. Kelly, Peter Fitzhugh, a special agent-in-charge at Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, said that the singer “made one critical error.”

“He underestimated the resilience and courage of the victims who refused to be silenced,” Mr. Fitzhugh said.

He added that he hoped the women and men who testified against the singer could now begin a “healing process” and restore the aspects of their lives that Mr. Kelly had destroyed.

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R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (6)

Sept. 27, 2021, 6:12 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 6:12 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

Kim Foxx, the top prosecutor in Chicago who announced state sex crime charges against him there in 2019, told me she believes R. Kelly’s conviction was “monumental” for the Me Too movement and sends a significant message about whose stories matter. “It is my hope that through this trial and the toll that it has taken to get to this point, that we recognize that the movement is not at its fullest strength if everyone doesn’t have equal access to justice,” she said.

Sept. 27, 2021, 5:54 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 5:54 p.m. ET

Emily Palmer

R. Kelly made his victims write letters exonerating him. Instead, they helped convict him.

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Much of the evidence that prosecutors used to convict R. Kelly came from the singer himself.

He obsessively collected message slips and letters written by the women he interacted with — some of them underage — according to Ryan Chabot, the lead federal investigator in the case. Mr. Chabot said he sifted through the evidence recovered from several searches of the singer’s Chicago apartment and storage facility.

Mr. Kelly kept some of the evidence in FedEx folders, with labels like “Old Messages,” and other pieces — like a seven-page, front-and-back, handwritten letter from a woman who testified for three days early in the trial — in protective sleeves in a locked safe.

Calling Mr. Kelly a “great man,” the woman wrote: “At the age of 17 I never had sex with Robert Kelly,” then proceeded to tick off a list of specific sex acts that she said she had not participated in with the R&B superstar.

Less than two years later, when the woman who had written the letter testified under a pseudonym, she said she had experienced coerced and recorded sexual encounters with the singer starting when she was 17. He hit her often, she said, and forced her to get an abortion.

Every letter that prosecutors introduced at trial came from Mr. Kelly’s personal collection in what appeared to be a yearslong attempt to build his defense even before the indictment in Brooklyn was unsealed. They were all signed by accusers who were at the forefront of the case against the singer.

Those accusers now say he forced them to write the letters, including a man who testified that the singer told him what to write “word for word.”

The material, known as “collateral,” makes it difficult for victims to escape, said Dawn M. Hughes, a clinical and forensic psychologist who provided expert testimony for the prosecution. (She also testified as an expert at the trial of Keith Raniere, the Nxivm cult leader, who also relied on such collateral to intimidate women he was abusing.)

Creating collateral keeps adolescents “captive,” she said, and creates a power dynamic she likened to “slowly sucking the oxygen out of the room and once you realize it, you can’t get out.”

Sept. 27, 2021, 5:36 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 5:36 p.m. ET

Alexandra E. Petri and Emily Palmer

Gloria Allred, lawyer for survivors, says ‘justice has been done.’

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‘Justice Has Been Done,’ Allred Says

Gloria Allred, the famed women’s rights attorney who represented several of R. Kelly’s victims, said Mr. Kelly was the worst of all the sexual predators she had pursued in her career.

I have pursued many sexual predators who have committed crimes against women and children. Of all the predators that I have pursued, however, Mr. Kelly is the worst, for many reasons. First, he used the power of his celebrity to recruit vulnerable, underage girls for the purpose of sexually abusing them. These were not May- October relationships, which is what his defense attorney wanted the jury to believe. These were crimes against children and some adults. Second, he used the power of his business enterprise, and many of his inner circle employees, to assist him and enable him in his plan and his scheme to lure his victims to him, isolate them, intimidate them, control them, indoctrinate them, punish them, shame them and humiliate them. R. Kelly’s victims handled themselves with dignity and survived intense cross-examination by the defense. Because of their courage and the outstanding work of federal agents and prosecutors in this case, justice has been done. Let this be a message to other celebrities who also use their fame to prey on their fans and others who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with them. You’re also likely to face serious consequences for your criminal conduct. The issue is not if the law will catch up to you. The only question is when.

R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (10)

Shortly after a jury found R. Kelly guilty of a decades-long scheme to recruit women and teenage girls for sex, Gloria Allred, a women’s rights attorney who represented several of the singer’s accusers, stood outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn and declared “justice has been done.”

Ms. Allred has often represented women who have been victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault by powerful men — including in the case against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein. But she said that “of all the predators that I have pursued, Mr. Kelly is the worst.”

Mr. Kelly used his celebrity to manipulate and sexually abuse underage girls, Ms. Allred said, and had used a network of enablers to help build and sustain that world of torment and abuse. Mr. Kelly also knowingly spread herpes to his victims, she said.

Ms. Allred represented three of the six victims whose accounts were at the center of the case, as well as two other key witnesses in the trial. She also represented a third who in the end was not called to testify.

“Let this be a message to other celebrities who also use their fame to prey on their fans,” Ms. Allred said. “The issue is not if the law will catch up to you, the only question is when.”

Jacquelyn Kasulis, acting attorney for the Eastern District of New York, also spoke at the news conference, applauding the verdict and the “bravery and resilience” of survivors whose testimony was central to the case against Mr. Kelly.

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R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (11)

Sept. 27, 2021, 5:09 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 5:09 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

Sparkle, the singer who testified that her niece was the underage girl at the center of R. Kelly’s trial in 2008, told me after his conviction that she was feeling a “bevy of emotions” as her voice broke over the phone. “It’s a good day. It’s a sad day. It’s just the fact that my niece and the other young women can now feel a sense of relief — he’s not able to do this to them any longer.”

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:54 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:54 p.m. ET

Troy Closson and Rebecca Davis O’Brien

Outside the courthouse, R. Kelly’s die-hard fans react to guilty verdict with outrage.

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Outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, a small group of R. Kelly supporters greeted Monday’s guilty verdict with outrage, citing unproven claims of a biased prosecution.

“We are not giving up,” one woman shouted into a megaphone, as Mr. Kelly’s lawyers left the courthouse Monday afternoon. “Free Robert Sylvester Kelly.”

“This is a racist country,” another said. (Mr. Kelly, like many of the women and men who testified against him, is Black.)

As dozens of accusations against R. Kelly spilled over into public view in recent years, Mr. Kelly’s reputation has deteriorated. But a steadfast group of supporters maintains that he is innocent, with some attending each day of his racketeering trial in New York.

The group remained relatively small throughout the six-week trial, and often gathered outside the courthouse before the day’s proceedings began. Some crafted chalk art including the words “Free R. Kelly” on a nearby sidewalk. Others waited in line to be among the first to enter the building when it opened.

During breaks, the fervent group often streamed the singer’s music on a loudspeaker in a park across the street from the courthouse. Some spoke with followers on social media live-streams and offered updates on the day’s testimony.

And when the days ended, many cheered and shook hands with Mr. Kelly’s defense lawyers while jeering federal prosecutors as they left the building.

Much of Mr. Kelly’s current fan base lives in and around Chicago, his hometown, where he once was seen as a success story, someone who overcame a low-income upbringing filled with struggles. Several of the supporters who have attended the New York trial flew from Illinois to follow the case.

A handful of supporters claimed seats each day in the back of the courtroom where the public and reporters could watch the proceedings via closed-circuit video. They often reacted out loud to the government’s witnesses and to the counterarguments of Mr. Kelly’s defense lawyers.

At times, it landed them it trouble.

After a prosecutor said that there had been “audible, negative reactions to testimony” and that the father of one accuser had been verbally accosted, Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who presided over the trial, warned visitors that they would lose access to the courthouse if they did not “behave.”

Emily Palmer contributed reporting.

R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (14)

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:44 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:44 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

The “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary on Lifetime was key to bringing awareness to the charges against the singer. After the verdict, Dream Hampton, the production’s executive producer, said on Twitter that she was “grateful to the survivors. The ones who talked and the ones who didn’t.”

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Sept. 27, 2021, 4:28 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:28 p.m. ET

Alexandra E. Petri

The ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ documentary catalyzed the case against the singer.

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R. Kelly’s trial has taken place behind closed doors, away from the press and the public. But even before his trial and conviction on Monday, the country had already heard the searing allegations of sexual, emotional and physical abuse leveled against the singer.

A 2019 Lifetime documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” featured six hourlong episodes that included the stories of some of the women who said they were abused and manipulated by Mr. Kelly, often when they were underage.

“It makes a difference when there are cameras involved, and when people can actually see these women telling their stories and feel it,” said Dream Hampton, an executive producer of the documentary.

The trail of allegations against Mr. Kelly was first examined through reporting that first emerged in the early 2000s by Jim DeRogatis, a music critic at The Chicago-Sun Times. And in 2008, Mr. Kelly was tried and acquitted in a criminal court in Chicago in a high-profile child p*rnography case. Years later, Mr. DeRogatis went on to publish several more damning and widely shared articles.

But it was the documentary — emerging amid the broader Me Too movement’s reckoning over sexual abuse by powerful men — that finally derailed Mr. Kelly’s career.

The series was followed by criminal charges against the singer in Minnesota, Illinois and New York at the federal and state levels. RCA, Mr. Kelly’s record label, and its parent company Sony Music Entertainment cut him loose.

On Monday, Mr. Kelly was convicted on all charges. When he is sentenced in May, he faces life in prison.

But the case does not stop when a verdict is reached, Ms. Hampton said.

“Peer accountability really is the true end here,” Ms. Hampton said.

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:19 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:19 p.m. ET

Ben Sisario

R. Kelly’s trial could become music’s #MeToo moment.

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When the #MeToo movement began sweeping through Hollywood, politics and the business world in 2017, people in the music industry — where unsupervised contact between male stars and young female fans is so common as to be mythologized — wondered when accountability would reach their shores.

The music business has indeed had its share of scandals in recent years. The singers Marilyn Manson and Ryan Adams, and the hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, have been accused of various kinds of misconduct.

But the criminal trial of R. Kelly, which ended with his conviction on Monday, has been by far the most high profile #MeToo moment in music. To a great degree, that is a result of the serious nature of the charges that federal prosecutors brought against him, and of the fact that Mr. Kelly was accused of engaging in sex acts with women and girls as young as 13 or 14.

But similar accusations against Mr. Kelly have been public for decades, publicized through reporting in The Chicago Sun-Times in the early 2000s and at a child p*rnography trial in 2008, where he was acquitted. For years, Mr. Kelly remained signed to a major record label, where he sold millions of albums and maintained his status as a top-level hitmaker. Stars like Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, Usher and Chance the Rapper worked with him; in 2013, he performed at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, a home for hipster-approved indie rock.

That Mr. Kelly avoided banishment from the music world for so long — and, indeed, that he was embraced by that world — has been seen as a stain against the industry. It was only in 2017 that public opinion began to turn decisively against Mr. Kelly. That was when BuzzFeed News began to publish a series of investigative reports by Jim DeRogatis, a journalist who had chronicled the accusations against Mr. Kelly at The Sun-Times years before.

In early 2019, after the broadcast of the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” featuring stomach-turning firsthand accounts by numerous women, Mr. Kelly was finally dropped by RCA, his label. By then, Mr. Kelly had not had a hit in a number of years.

Today, Mr. Kelly has been largely shunned by the music industry at large; Lady Gaga, for example, apologized for working with him and removed the track they recorded together in 2013. But Mr. Kelly’s catalog is still available on streaming services. Its popularity there — on Spotify, his music draws 5.2 million listeners each month — suggests a fan base that has never left.

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R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (17)

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:15 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:15 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

Jerhonda Pace, the first accuser to testify against R. Kelly at the trial, was one of the earliest women to go public with her accusations in 2017. On Monday, she reacted with a simple message on Instagram, writing “Verdict? GUILTY.”

R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (18)

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:13 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:13 p.m. ET

Jonah Bromwich

covers the courts in New York

Racketeering cases against individual defendants are rare. This racketeering charge against R. Kelly required prosecutors to prove that the singer was the leader of an ongoing criminal enterprise involving multiple enablers, even though he was the sole defendant on trial.

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:09 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:09 p.m. ET

Rebecca Davis O’Brien

reporting from the courthouse

R. Kelly’s lawyer says the case was ‘replete with inconsistencies.’

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R. Kelly ‘Disappointed’ by the Verdict, His Lawyer Says

Deveraux L. Cannick, R. Kelly’s lawyer, said the defense team would appeal the singer’s guilty verdict after he was found guilty of racketeering and 8 counts of sex trafficking.

“Of course, Mr. Kelly is disappointed. He was not anticipating this verdict because based on the evidence, why should he anticipate this verdict? When you go with the discovery, you saw witness after witnesses giving three, four, five different versions as to what they said happened here. The government cherry-picked the version that they thought would be a continuation of the narrative that was first put out by Cheryl Mack and ‘Surviving R. Kelly,’ and they cherry-picked a version and ran with that version. They totally ignore the inconsistencies that all of these witnesses gave in their debriefing. They try, and I guess they successfully did it, was to massage it. But it’s a situation we are in. I didn’t know if I’m more disappointed in the jurors’ verdict or the government’s action in this case. Thank you very much.” “Reporter: What did your client say to you as soon as the verdict was read?” “I’m sure. I’m sure we’ll be appealing.”

R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (20)

As he left the courtroom, R. Kelly’s lawyer said the defense team would consider appealing the verdict that could send his star client to prison for life.

“Of course we are disappointed in the verdict,” the lawyer, Deveraux L. Cannick, said as he walked through the courthouse. “I am even more disappointed in the prosecution for bringing this case,” he said, adding that it was “replete with inconsistencies.”

But jurors found the witnesses credible, and convicted Mr. Kelly on all charges.

Asked if Mr. Kelly was prepared for the conviction, Mr. Cannick said: “I don’t think anybody is ever prepared for an outcome like this.”

Mr. Cannick stepped outside the courthouse, where dozens of reporters and camera crews had been stationed all day in anticipation of a verdict. He and other members of the defense team strode past the microphones set up for a news conference and into the adjacent park, where he was quickly ambushed by cameras and microphones.

Speaking as he walked, Mr. Cannick told the cameras that “witness after witness had given three, four, five different versions” of their stories.

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R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (21)

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:07 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:07 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

One important takeaway from the verdict: What it could mean to the family of the singer Aaliyah, who died in 2001. Jurors found R. Kelly responsible for the bribe of a government employee that allowed him to marry Aaliyah in 1994 when she was 15.

R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (22)

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:03 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 4:03 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, thanked the 11 men and women who accused R. Kelly of misconduct at the trial: “No one deserves what they experienced at his hands or the threats and harassment they faced in telling the truth about what happened to them. We hope that today’s verdict brings some measure of comfort and closure.”

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R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (23)

Sept. 27, 2021, 3:59 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 3:59 p.m. ET

Rebecca Davis O'Brien

reporting from the courthouse

A handful of reporters were allowed into the actual courtroom for the verdict, and we were able to see the jury and R. Kelly’s reaction. The only motion I could detect from Mr. Kelly was the occasional clench of his jaw; his eyes seemed to be looking straight ahead at the table. At the end, he stood and buttoned his suit as the jury filed out through a side door.

Sept. 27, 2021, 3:57 p.m. ET

Sept. 27, 2021, 3:57 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

covers criminal justice in New York

A woman who testified against R. Kelly in 2008 called the trial ‘a big relief.’

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The singer Sparkle was hopeful that R. Kelly could elevate her 12-year-old niece, an aspiring rapper, to success when she introduced the girl and other family members to the R&B star.

But years later, she would testify at Mr. Kelly’s first criminal trial that a sex tape at the center of the case showed Mr. Kelly having sex with and urinating on her teenage niece.

It was not enough for jurors, and the singer was acquitted of child p*rnography charges in 2008.

On Monday, she said she was feeling “a bevy of emotions” after Mr. Kelly was finally found guilty of sex-trafficking and racketeering charges on Monday, 20 years after she was first approached by a lawyer over the sex tape involving her niece.

“It’s a good day. It’s a sad day,” she said, her voice breaking. “It’s just the fact that my niece and the other young women can now feel a sense of relief — he’s not able to do this to them any longer.”

In an earlier interview in the days before the singer’s conviction, she described the case as “a big relief” and an enormous “release” of the regrets, hardships and frustrations she has held for decades.

“I have been carrying this since 2001,” Sparkle, whose real name is Stephanie Edwards, said in an interview in the days before the verdict arrived. “Finally, I can have some sense of normal — whatever normal looks like on the other end of this.”

She added: “This was really something that I took and put on my shoulders. I’m needing massages every other day, because this thing has been heavy.”

Sparkle was once R. Kelly’s protégée, providing backup vocals for Aaliyah’s debut album and releasing her own first album in 1998. The two records were both produced by Mr. Kelly, and hers went gold.

When Sparkle testified at Mr. Kelly’s first trial, her sister — the mother of her niece — maintained that the teenager in the sex tape was not her daughter. Her testimony fractured the family and her promising music career never fully recovered after the trial.

In its aftermath, Sparkle said her relationships with family members briefly recovered, before further deteriorating after she participated in the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary.

“I don’t want to say happy because it’s not really a happy moment,” Sparkle said. “You just can’t even understand what my family has gone through.”

She added: “I don’t know that it will ever be the same.”

She said it was “mind-boggling” that the singer’s abuses spanned more than three decades, and emphasized that those around Mr. Kelly who allowed his behavior to continue were also to blame. “They helped this man do all of this stuff to these young girls,” she said. “Shame on them.”

Her niece, now a woman in her 30s, has cooperated with federal prosecutors in Chicago in recent years in their own case against the singer. Sparkle said she was not sure how she had been processing the singer’s current trial.

“But I hope she’s able to live a little bit more,” Sparkle said. “Even if she gets recognized, to not have such a backlash. I’m just hopeful that it’s all over.”

She added: “I wish and I pray that moving forward that Black women are listened to.”

R. Kelly Trial Verdict: R. Kelly Is Found Guilty of All Counts and Faces Life in Prison (Published 2021) (2024)
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Introduction: My name is Maia Crooks Jr, I am a homely, joyous, shiny, successful, hilarious, thoughtful, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.