© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: R. Kelly leaves the Criminal Court Building after pleading not guilty during a hearing on eleven new counts of criminal sexual abuse, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Acker/
By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – A U.S. judge in Illinois on Thursday is due to sentence musician R. Kelly for child pornography and coercion, deciding whether to tack more time onto a 30-year sentence from a previous case that alone would keep Kelly in prison well into his 80s.
Kelly, 56, the Grammy-winning R&B artist, has been convicted in two separate trials of luring multiple underage girls into sex by leveraging his wealth and fame, in some case recording the abuse on video.
Prosecutors have argued in a sentencing memo that Kelly is so incorrigible that “the only way to ensure Kelly does not reoffend is to impose a sentence that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life.” They want to add another 25 years to his existing 30-year sentence.
Defense attorneys say a 56-year-old African American man with diabetes is already facing an effective life sentence with the existing 30-year term. They acknowledge the judge must impose a minimum sentence of 10 years, but contend it should run concurrently.
They also question why federal prosecutors have dedicated so many resources to prosecuting a Black artist when many of the biggest white stars in rock ‘n’ roll history have been accused of abusing underage girls and “none have been prosecuted and none will die in prison.”
Last year a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York sentenced Kelly to 30 years in prison based on his 2021 conviction for multiple felonies including illegal sex with minors and sexual exploitation of minors.
In a separate trial last year, he was also convicted of multiple felonies in the Northern District of Illinois, where Judge Harry Leinenweber will preside over the sentencing hearing on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors label Kelly a serial sexual predator whose “desire to sexually abuse children is insatiable. … He cannot be deterred.”
Defense lawyer Jennifer Bonjean alleges a double standard for a Black artist, naming 11 white rock stars in her sentencing memo who have been accused of abusing underage girls and gone unpunished.
“There was a whole culture around it and so yes I do think there’s a disproportionate attention on Mr. Kelly,” Bonjean said in a telephone interview. “The ’90s R&B star looks a lot different than these old rock ‘n’ roll artists.”
Kelly will not address the judge, Bonjean said, because he still faces prosecution in other jurisdictions and any statement could be used against him.