A federal judge will sentence R. Kelly for his Chicago convictions of child pornography and enticement of minors for sex on Thursday, when the 56-year-old singer will learn if he must spend the rest of his life behind bars or if he will have some hope of getting out alive.
The central question for the judge at the hearing in Kelly’s hometown of Chicago is whether to heed prosecutors’ request to order that Kelly serve a new sentence only after he completes his 30-year term imposed last year in New York for racketeering and sex trafficking.
A sentence that Kelly must serve consecutively would be tantamount to a life sentence.
Prosecutors acknowledge that a lengthy term served after the New York sentence would practically erase any chance of Kelly ever leaving prison alive. They say the Grammy Award-winner’s crimes against children and his lack of remorse justified that.
They recommend a 25-year sentence served consecutively. That would make him eligible for release in 2066, a year shy of his 100th birthday. The defense wants a sentence of around 10 years, served simultaneously.
If the judge does let Kelly serve his new sentence simultaneously with the New York sentence, he will serve no more than the 30 years and should be eligible for release at around age 80 — providing him some hope of one day resuming life outside prison.
Jurors in Chicago convicted Kelly last year on six of 13 counts — three counts of producing child porn and three of enticement of minors for sex. Kelly was acquitted of the marquee count, alleging he successfully rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial.
Kelly rose from poverty in Chicago to become one of the world’s biggest R&B stars. Known for his smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and for sex-infused songs such as “Bump n’ Grind,” he sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.
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In presentencing filings, prosecutors described Kelly as “a serial sexual predator” who used his fame and wealth to reel in star-struck fans to sexually abuse and then discard them.
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, accused prosecutors of offering an “embellished narrative” regarding Kelly and seeking to get the judge to join what she called the government’s “blood-thirsty campaign to make Kelly a symbol of the #MeToo movement.”
Bonjean said Kelly has suffered enough, including financially. She said his worth once approached $1 billion, but that he “is now destitute.”