Robert Sylvester Kelly, the Chicago native known to most of the world as R. Kelly, was, at one point, one of the biggest entertainment celebrities on the planet. Last week, Mr. Kelly was found guilty of racketeering and eight other counts related to sex trafficking. The criminal episodes leading up to the trial and verdict tell a compelling story of how Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement slowly gave power to young female voices.
R. Kelly’s predatory tendencies date back to 1994 when the then 27-year-old rap star married 15-year-old Aaliyah. The marriage was deemed legal initially because an assistant of Mr. Kelly was able to acquire false documents on behalf of the child bride that said she was 18. Even though the marriage was annulled a year later due to its illegality, no charges were ever filed. Mr. Kelly avoided the charge because the prosecution could never prove that he had knowledge that false documents were procured. Kelly avoided the topic for the rest of his career in interviews, even after Aaliyah died in 2001.
In 1996, Mr. Kelly was sued for emotional distress after having a sexual relationship with a fifteen-year-old intern. In 2001, Kelly was once again sued by an intern for forcing her into a sexual relationship before the age of 18. In 2002, two more cases were brought on against Kelly for abusive sexual relationships with a minor. For the first time during that year, Mr. Kelly finally faced criminal charges for his inappropriate relationships when he was charged with child abuse for coercing and then filming a minor participating in sexual acts. He was arrested for the first time in 2002 in Florida when police found tapes of the icon having sex with an underage girl. The charges were dropped when Mr. Kelly’s defense team was able to prove that the police did not have sufficient cause to search Kelly’s house.
Until 2017, the media and cultural narrative seemed to ignore Kelly’s accusers and focus on the star’s industry success and growing popularity. That changed, starting with an extensive report from several women about how Kelly abused and controlled the lives of women that he had sex with, which once again included a list of minors. Over the next two years, Kelly’s victims became more vocal and started the movement #MuteRKelly, targeting streaming services to remove the music of the predatory artist. In 2019, the documentary Surviving R. Kelly aired the stories of survivors to the general public, changing general sentiment about the singer and leading to the cancellation of international shows. Mr. Kelly still managed to avoid conviction in a Chicago trial in which he was charged with sexual assault on a minor after a tape emerged that allegedly showed the singer having sex with a 14-year-old.
July 2019, however, was the beginning of the end for Mr. Kelly when he was named in two separate federal indictments related to sex trafficking. In August of 2020, members of Mr. Kelly’s circle were charged with witness tampering after offering to pay off victims and potential witnesses. The trial began in August, and in September, Kelly was found guilty of nine counts related to sex trafficking. Experienced prosecutors on the case noted that Mr. Kelly was one of the worst predators they had ever tried.
Understanding why it took until 2021 for Mr. Kelly to be found guilty of his crimes comes from an understanding of what kind of evidence it took for Kelly to be convicted. Until the federal government became involved, the majority of the testimony against Kelly was witness testimony. Up until the #MeToo movement, the willingness of jurors and the community at large to accept evidence of that kind against public figures was extremely low. This sentiment opened up victims to public scrutiny, which often only led to resentment. Kelly’s defense team was also able to thwart police efforts to indict Mr. Kelly when they moved too quickly on scarce evidence for a conviction. Eliminating smaller fragments of evidence one at a time protected Kelly from a broader coordinated effort that he eventually fell to in 2021.
Mr. Kelly’s conviction from a legal perspective demonstrates how a competent federal effort was able to finally lock Mr. Kelly down with enough evidence to convict him. Sometimes even the highest-powered defense teams cannot overcome a multitude of evidence obtained legally through a coordinated federal law enforcement investigation.
But the reason that the federal effort began and understanding the cultural shift in attitude toward R. Kelly comes from a progressive view on how America now views victims of sexual assault and their stories. We now live in a society that is more readily able to accept the stories of survivors as fact, even when they are stories that show high-profile public figures in a bad light.
R Kelly is, and was, clearly, a predator, and his conviction is a clear win for the American legal system. Mr. Kelly has not yet been sentenced, but it is likely that he will spend several decades incarcerated, highlighting the severity of which crimes of sexual assault are punished.
If you have been charged with sexual assault, it is important to contact an attorney immediately so that you can prepare the strongest defense. It is critical that you have an experienced and relentless sex assault defense attorney on your side. Call Krizman Law today at 303-529-2677.
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Mr. Krizman is a criminal defense attorney in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in providing relentless defense for domestic violence, DUI, and drug crimes. He is a former public defender who has also worked for a district attorney and is licensed in the State of Colorado, and the United States Federal Court, District of Colorado. Mr. Krizman is a member of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Colorado Bar Association, Denver Bar Association, and Arapahoe County Bar Association. A Colorado native, he has a law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and a bachelor’s degree in Government and World Affairs from the University of Tampa. Call him today at 720.819.7317.