“To the victims in this case, your voices were heard and justice was finally served,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis said Monday outside the Brooklyn courthouse , where a jury convicted the 54-year-old R&B star on all nine counts of sex trafficking and racketeering following less than two days of deliberations.
The verdict “sends a loud message to survivors of sexual violence,” says Erinn Robinson, press secretary for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, in a statement to USA TODAY. “Today’s verdict was made possible by their courage and persistence in being heard, and we thank them for their resilience during a difficult and very public process.”
But now that the New York trial has come to a close, what’s next for Kelly, who faces similar charges in three federal and state cases in Illinois and Minnesota?
And what could the verdict mean for the #MeToo movement, which helped shine a light on decades of abuse allegations against Kelly?
R. Kelly’s sentence will begin when?
Kelly, who has been behind bars since his arrest in July 2019, won’t be sentenced until May 4.
The singer faces the possibility of decades in prison for crimes including violating the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking law that prohibits taking anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
Michael Irving Leonard, one of Kelly’s lawyers in a similar federal case against him in Chicago, told USA TODAY he was surprised by the New York verdict.
“I was optimistic that on the main charges, the racketeering charges, he would be found not guilty,” Leonard said. “The nature of a (Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organization) RICO case typically fits that of Mafia or drug kingpins directing their underlings to do various (illegal) things and this is a far different scenario. I didn’t think the jury would believe that (Kelly) and the band were a ‘criminal enterprise.’ “
According to Leonard, the delayed sentencing date for Kelly is not standard – usually federal judges set sentencing 90 or 120 days out – but is not unheard of and may be the result of the judge’s schedule and COVID-19 precautions.
Leonard said Kelly’s sentence will be calculated based on federal sentencing guidelines for the various crimes he’s been convicted of, such as racketeering, which carries a recommended maximum of 20 years.
What does the verdict mean for R. Kelly’s other trials?
The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing Kelly.
The singer also has pleaded not guilty to similar charges in Illinois and Minnesota, and it is not yet clear how the verdict in Brooklyn will affect those cases or when they might reach a trial.
Ordinarily, the trial in the Northern District of Illinois, in which Kelly has co-defendants, would be up next, but nothing is certain at the moment. Kelly’s co-defendants want to move forward to a trial as soon as possible, possibly in January, Leonard said, and they’re entitled to do so.
“All parties except Kelly want a quick trial date,” Leonard said. “Those co-defendants are in a quite different position from Kelly, and if he were to get a draconian sentence, it might have some impact on this trial (in Chicago). The judge is not going to agree to wait until June to go to trial.”
Leonard also raises the question of whether a Minnesota prosecutor needs to take Kelly to trial on one count, if the R&B star has already been sentenced to years in New York.
“Is it a good use of resources to try someone already facing a significant sentence?” Leonard asks.
But Lynn Hecht Schafran, legal director of Legal Momentum, a longstanding legal advocacy organization for women, said the verdict doesn’t mean other state and federal prosecutions pending against Kelly will not or should not go forward.
“Every victim deserves to have their voice heard and justice served in their individual case,” she told USA TODAY.
Besides, there’s tremendous political pressure to pursue sex-abuse cases, among the most under-reported and under-prosecuted crimes in the country, says former federal prosecutor-turned-Los Angeles civil attorney Neama Rahmani, who’s been following the Kelly case.
“So when you tell victims R. Kelly is not going to see justice for acts he committed against (them), it’s not going to fly both with the public at large and with the victims,” says Rahmani.
What does R. Kelly’s verdict mean for #MeToo?
According to advocates for sexual assault survivors, Kelly’s conviction may offer hope to those who come forward with allegations, including women of color who may fear their accusations will be minimized or ignored.
“We hope that today’s verdict empowers survivors everywhere to feel that they are not alone,” Robinson said.
For years, the public and news media seemed to be more amused than horrified by allegations against the singer of inappropriate relationships with minors, starting with Kelly’s illegal marriage to the R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15.
His records and concert tickets kept selling. Other artists continued to record his songs, even after he was arrested in 2002 and accused of making a recording of himself sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl. He was acquitted in that case in 2008.
Widespread public condemnation didn’t come until a widely watched docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” helped make his case a signifier of the #MeToo era, and gave voice to accusers who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.
Within months of the series being shown on TV in 2019, Kelly was under arrest. “I don’t think TV producers should be deciding who gets prosecuted in this country, but we are dealing with limited government resources and these are the political realities we need to acknowledge,” Rahmani said. “It’s a new world we’re living in.”
Schafran called the verdict a “step toward justice” and a possible signal that society “has reached a new stage of unwillingness to ignore the harm” Kelly and others have caused many young lives.
“The next stage is to hold the enablers accountable – Kelly did not hold all these young women in thrall, nor avoid accountability for his actions, by himself,” she said.
Contributing: Tom Hays, Larry Neumeister, Associated Press; Cydney Henderson, Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org/online and receive confidential support.