Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who presided over the six-weeklong trial last year in Brooklyn, New York, announced the singer's sentence Wednesday after hearing statements from Kelly's accusers.
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. Kelly did not address the court. Defense lawyer Jennifer Bonjean said Kelly was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard.
“He’s a human being. He feels what other people are feeling," Bonjean added. "But that doesn’t mean that he can accept responsibility in the way that the government would like him to and other people would like him to. Because he disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him."
A jury of seven men and five women found the 55-year-old guilty on Sept. 27, after just two days of deliberations. At the time, Kelly remained motionless with his eyes downcast as the verdict was read.
"Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this is not a case about sex. It’s a case about violence, cruelty and control," Donnelly told him.
Through tears and anger, R. Kelly’s accusers told a court Wednesday he preyed on them and misled his fans as the fallen R&B star listened with downcast eyes as he awaited sentencing on his federal sex trafficking conviction.
"You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel," one woman told the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer. "Do you remember that?”
R. Kelly's sex-trafficking conviction: Everything that's happened, including sentencing
The charges were based on an argument that Kelly's entourage of managers and aides helped the singer meet girls and keep them obedient and quiet. These actions amounted to a criminal enterprise under federal laws, according to U.S. attorneys. Kelly was also convicted of criminal counts accusing him of violating the Mann Act, which makes it illegal to take anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
"Although we are disappointed in the sentence, we are eager to bring Mr. Kelly’s appeal before the Second Circuit," said Bonjean in a statement to USA TODAY Wednesday. "We continue to maintain that the government overcharged and then failed to prove racketeering and Mann Act violations. "
Prosecutors filed a memo June 8 stating that Kelly deserves at least 25 years behind bars for sexually abusing women and girls. The singer's lawyers said a sentence of 10 years or less is all he deserves, arguing he should get a break in part because he “experienced a traumatic childhood involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.”
"He’s strong, and we are going to get through this,” Bonjean said on her way into court Wednesday. “Mr. Kelly has had horrific labels slapped on him. But he’s not obligated to own them."
R. Kelly's sex trafficking sentence is 30 years in prison. Now what happens?
What accusers said during the sentencing
Kelly manipulated millions of fans into believing he was someone other than the man the jury saw, another accuser said Wednesday.
Victims “have sought to be heard and acknowledged,” she said. “We are no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were.”
A third woman, sobbing and sniffling as she spoke, said Kelly’s conviction restored her faith in the legal system. “I once lost hope,” she said, addressing the court and prosecutors, “but you restored my faith.”
The woman said Kelly victimized her after she went to a concert when she was 17.
"I was afraid, naive and didn’t know to handle the situation," she said, so she didn’t speak up at the time. "Silence," she said, "is a very lonely place."
Kelly kept his hands folded and looked down as he listened. It wasn’t yet clear whether he would speak at the sentencing.
The R. Kelly trial shocked us: Here's what shouldn't
What happened during R. Kelly's NY trial
Kelly's trial stemmed from six complaining witnesses, one of whom was Aaliyah. Witnesses say the late singer was married to Kelly before she was legally old enough to do so, through the use of fraudulent documents. Kelly did not take the stand during his trial.
Several other accusers testified in lurid detail during the trial, alleging that Kelly subjected his victims to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
The sentencing, originally set for May 4, was delayed several times.
Less than a week before Wednesday's sentencing, one of Kelly's supporters was arrested in Chicago after making threats toward prosecutors working on the R&B singer's trial on YouTube.
R. Kelly verdict: R&B star found guilty on all counts in New York sex trafficking trial
The complaint obtained by USA TODAY details a man named Christopher Gunn live-streamed a video showing off a photo of the Brooklyn Federal Court Building while encouraging viewers to "get real familiar with this building" adding that "We’re gonna storm they office."
In 2008 a jury acquitted Kelly of 14 counts of child pornography charges after deliberating for less than eight hours over two days.
Kelly, who has been jailed without bail since 2019, faces similar federal and state charges in Illinois and Minnesota. His trial in Illinois is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.
The hitmaker is known for work including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet,” a multi-part tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
Allegations that Kelly abused young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He was sued in 1997 by a woman who alleged sexual battery and sexual harassment while she was a minor, and he later faced criminal child pornography charges related to a different girl in Chicago. A jury there acquitted him in 2008, and he settled the lawsuit.
All the while, Kelly continued to sell millions of albums.
Contributing: Maria Puente and Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: R. Kelly sentence: Singer gets 30 years in prison for sex trafficking