JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
R. Kelly was once a beloved R&B star. Today, in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was convicted last September of the sexual exploitation of a child, racketeering, bribery and sex trafficking. NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas was at the courthouse today for that hearing. And just a quick note to our listeners - we will be talking about sexual abuse. Hi, Anastasia.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Juana. Good to be with you.
SUMMERS: All right. If you could, first of all, remind us about the case against R. Kelly.
TSIOULCAS: Sure. Federal prosecutors proved that Kelly had been the head of a criminal enterprise whose purpose was to lure girls, boys and women to him for his sexual gratification. And there were five victims in the conviction, including the deceased R&B star Aaliyah, whom Kelly married with false documents when she was just 15 years old. And it's worth remembering there were accusations and rumors swirling around R. Kelly for nearly three decades leading up to today. He's already 55 years old. So if he serves his full sentence, he'll be in his 80s by the time he's released.
SUMMERS: As I understand it, some of those victims were in court today to give impact statements.
TSIOULCAS: That's right, Juana. These were very powerful statements. Some of the women were angry, many were overcome with tears. Several spoke about suffering decades-long depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts. And one woman named Stephanie said in addressing Kelly, no price was too high for someone else to pay for your happiness. And we should note many of these accusations - most of them - came from Black women and girls or were made on their behalf. And for years, those women were frequently ridiculed, dismissed or silenced.
SUMMERS: What about the judge? I heard she made remarks today. What did she say?
TSIOULCAS: She was very clear. She said, quote, "this case is not about sex. It's about violence, cruelty and control." The defense had said he had endured a very difficult childhood, including being the victim of sexual abuse himself at the hands of his sister and the landlord. She acknowledged that, but she also said, quote, "you were a person who had great advantages - worldwide fame and celebrity, untold money."
SUMMERS: This was obviously not the outcome that Kelly and his team were hoping for. What was their reaction to this verdict?
TSIOULCAS: Jennifer Bonjean is Kelly's current lead lawyer. He hired her after his conviction last September. And she's a defense attorney best known for getting Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction overturned last summer. And here's what she had to say this afternoon.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JENNIFER BONJEAN: Well, I mean, obviously, he's devastated. Thirty years in prison is like a life sentence for him. But at the same time, we knew the government was asking for 25 years. We were prepared for what the judge might impose, and we are now prepared to fight this appeal. For us, it's just the beginning of the fight, frankly.
SUMMERS: And what about the victims? What did they have to say after Kelly was sentenced?
TSIOULCAS: Let's hear what one of his accusers, Jovante Cunningham, had to say outside the courthouse after the sentencing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOVANTE CUNNINGHAM: There wasn't a day in my life, up until this moment, that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for Black and brown girls. Thirty years did he do this, and 30 years is what he got.
SUMMERS: So aside from the appeal from Kelly's team, what comes next?
TSIOULCAS: Well, this is not the end of the saga, Juana. In August, Kelly is expected to face another federal trial in Chicago - this one on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice. That trial is related to the charges he faced in Chicago in the early 2000s. He was acquitted, by the way, in 2008 of those charges.
He also has a pending criminal case in Minnesota, where he's been charged with engaging in prostitution with a minor. And, you know, he may wind up taking - after all this, may wind up taking a plea deal on all those charges given the length of the New York sentence.
SUMMERS: That's NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas. Thank you so much.
TSIOULCAS: You bet.
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