1990’s superstar R&B singer R. Kelly was found guilty on Monday of all the counts he faced, in a trial featuring lurid accusations that he sexually and physically abused and exploited girls and women for decades.
Specifically, a federal jury in New York found him guilty of racketeering and eight counts of violating of the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting people across US state lines for prostitution.
A grim-faced Kelly listened as the jury returned its verdict after a trial that lasted more than five weeks, and two days of jury deliberations. He faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison when he is sentenced on May 4 of next year.
The 54-year-old Robert Kelly had a string of hit songs in the 1990’s, including his biggest, “I Believe I Can Fly”, which won a Grammy award in 1996.
But rumors persisted for years that he was engaged in illicit activities with women and minors in his hometown of Chicago, and prosecutors said that for at least two decades, Kelly would lure them into his sphere, and later physically and sexually abuse them. Some of that abuse, prosecutors said, was captured on video that he himself recorded.
His defense lawyers portrayed Kelly as generous to future would-be singers, and that he was the victim of overzealous, lying fans and girlfriends who wanted to use their connection to him to become famous, after their music careers fizzled.
But prosecutors also accused Kelly’s entourage of often covering for his illicit activities. They described how Kelly married R&B singer Aaliyah in a Chicago hotel room in 1994, when she was 15 years old, and how a member of Kelly’s team later bribed a welfare office employee into making a fake identification card, to indicate she 27 years old. Aaliyah later died in a plane crash.
It is not clear if any of Kelly’s employees will face charges, but Kelly is facing more charges of his own, accused of sex crimes in both Illinois and Minnesota.
R. Kelly has long been trailed by troubling accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse, even as he climbed the Billboard charts and earned Grammys for his R&B music.
The scrutiny on the singer intensified in the #MeToo era — particularly after the premiere of “Surviving R. Kelly,” a 2019 documentary series that featured interviews with several of his accusers.
Here’s an abridged timeline of the key events that led to this moment.
November 1993: Kelly, a Chicago native who discovered his passion for music as a teenager, breaks into the national consciousness with the release of his debut studio album “12 Play,” anchored by the hit singles “Sex Me” and “Bump N’ Grind.”
Aug. 31, 1994: At 27, Kelly illegally marries 15-year-old singer Aaliyah, in a secret ceremony. The marriage is annulled months later because Aaliyah was underage. (She died in a plane crash in August 2001, when she was 22.)
November 1996: “I Believe I Can Fly,” released on the soundtrack for the movie “Space Jam,” peaks at No. 2 on the Billboard Pop Chart. The song goes on to become a classic of the R&B genre.
The same year, Kelly marries Andrea Lee, 22, a dancer from his touring company. They go on to have three children: Joanne, Jaya and Robert Jr.
December 1996: Tiffany Hawkins, a high school student and aspiring singer, sues Kelly for $10 million and alleges they began having sex in 1991, when he was 24 and she was 15.
January 1998: Hawkins’ lawsuit is settled for $250,000 and Kelly denies any wrongdoing, according to the Chicago Sun-Times article. The next month, Kelly wins three Grammy Awards for “I Believe I Can Fly.”
￼￼R. Kelly performing at Radio City Music Hall, New York on May 27, 1994.David Corio / Redferns – Getty Images
- Dec. 21, 2000: Kelly “used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them.”
August 2001: Tracy Sampson, who interned at Epic Records when she was a teenager, files a lawsuit against Kelly, alleging their sexual contact was illegal under Illinois law because he was in a “position of authority” over her.
The lawsuit was settled in 2002 for $250,000, Sampson has said. Kelly’s attorney told NBC News in 2019 that he did not represent the artist when Sampson alleges she was abused, but he was adamant that his client has done nothing wrong.
Feb. 8, 2002: The Chicago Sun-Times reports that music critic and reporter Jim DeRogatis anonymously received a 29-minute videotape allegedly showing Kelly having sex with a minor. The newspaper reports that Chicago police started investigating allegations about the singer and the same girl three years earlier.
The same day the Sun-Times article is published, Kelly performs at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
June 5, 2002: Kelly is indicted in Chicago on child pornography charges related to the sex tape that was received by the Sun-Times. He later pleads not guilty and he is released on $750,000 bail.
September 2005: Andrea Kelly requests an order of protection from her husband, accusing him of striking her when she told him she wanted a divorce.
“My wife and I had a heated argument, and we are now in the process of working it out,” Kelly said in a public statement at the time. “We hope that the press and public will give us the time and privacy we need to resolve this very personal situation.”
May 9, 2008: Kelly’s child pornography trial begins, more than five years after he was indicted.
June 13, 2008: Kelly is acquitted on all counts in the child pornography case after the jury deliberates for less than a full day.
January 2009: The singer and his former wife, Andrea, confirm they are divorced.
July 17, 2017: DeRogatis, who had doggedly reported on Kelly for years, publishes an exposé for BuzzFeed News called “Inside the Pied Piper of R&B’s ‘Cult.’” The article details claims from parents who say Kelly brainwashed their daughters and kept them in an abusive “cult.”
In the wake of the explosive report, activists and social media users kickstart the #MuteRKelly campaign, advocating for boycotts of his discography.
Oct. 5, 2017: The New York Times publishes the first of its investigations of movie producer Harvey Weinstein. The article helps inspire a wider reckoning with sexual harassment and assault in entertainment and other industries.
￼￼R. Kelly performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City, N.Y., on Nov. 25, 2003.KMazur / WireImage – Getty Images files
April 2018: The victims’ advocacy group Time’s Up and others associated with the broader #MeToo movement call for deeper investigation into Kelly’s alleged behavior.
In response, Kelly’s representatives say: “We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a Black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”
May 10, 2018: Spotify, the biggest streaming music service in America, removes R. Kelly’s music from its playlists as part of a new hate content and hateful conduct policy. Apple and Pandora announce shortly after that they will stop promoting his songs.
The same month, 20-year-old Faith Rodgers files a lawsuit accusing Kelly of sexual battery, mental and verbal abuse, and knowingly giving her herpes. (The singer’s representatives decline to comment to NBC News after Rodgers appears at a Jan. 2019 news conference, but his lawyers continue to insist their client has done nothing wrong.)
Jan. 3, 2019: The cable channel Lifetime premieres “Surviving R. Kelly,” a documentary series that chronicles the allegations against the singer and features interviews with several of his accusers. The documentary puts the singer’s behavior in the national spotlight again.
Feb. 22, 2019: Kelly is arrested and charged in Chicago with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Kelly’s attorney later enters not guilty pleas, and the singer is released from jail on bail.
March 6, 2019: In an interview with Gayle King of CBS News, Kelly forcefully denies the sexual abuse charges against him. “I didn’t do this stuff,” he said. “This is not me. I’m fighting for my f—ing life.”
May 30, 2019: Kelly is charged with 11 new sex-related counts in Chicago.
July 11, 2019: Kelly is indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago on 13 counts, including child pornography, enticement of a minor and obstruction of justice.
In a separate indictment announced the same day, federal prosecutors in New York charge Kelly with one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, a law that bars transporting anybody across state lines for prostitution.
He is arrested in Chicago while walking his dog.
Aug. 2, 2019: Kelly pleads not guilty to the federal charges in New York.
Aug. 5, 2019: He is charged in Minnesota with prostitution and solicitation — counts related to an allegation that he invited a teenage girl to a hotel room in 2001 and paid her $200 to dance naked with him.
In response to a request for comment, Kelly’s lawyer Steve Greenberg says: “Frankly, I’m not sure I could say anything without swearing.” He called the charges “an abuse of process, prosecutorial discretion and a perversion of the statute of limitations.”
￼R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2019.Antonio Perez / Tribune News Service via Getty Images file
October 2019: Kelly is denied bail in the New York sex abuse case.
March 5, 2020: The singer pleads not guilty in Chicago to an updated federal indictment that includes child pornography charges and allegations pertaining to a new accuser.
August 2021: Kelly’s sex-trafficking trial begins after Covid-related postponements. The prosecutors present the singer as a serial sexual predator while his defense lawyers describe his accusers as “groupies” who tried to take advantage of his fame and exploit the #MeToo movement.
Sept. 27, 2021: Kelly is found guilty in New York of one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, a law bars the transport of people across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”