After decades of escaping accountability, R. Kelly is a convicted felon. And those who say they endured physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of the disgraced R&B star are rejoicing.
“We got justice today,” Kitti Jones, a former Dallas radio DJ who gave up her career to be with Kelly, told The Daily Beast on Monday after he was found guilty of all nine charges he faced in a federal sex crimes case in Brooklyn. “I wouldn’t say I now have closure, because in the end none of us will get our time back. But this is a small victory.”
Kelly, 54, was convicted of charges including racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor, and violations of the Mann Act, which bars the transport of people across state lines for sex.
The “I Believe I Can Fly” singer was a punchline before he was known as a predator, fodder for a notorious “Chappelle’s Show” skit even as he was credibly accused of horrific sexual violence, often targeting children unable to consent. He continued to perform as a musician for a decade after securing a not-guilty verdict in a 2008 child porn case in Chicago, despite what prosecutors said was a video of him urinating on and sexually assaulting a 14-year-old.
In the Brooklyn case, prosecutors did not charge Kelly with sexual assault, but rather proved that he systematically abused women and girls by way of a mafia-style enterprise, and that at least four of the victims were minors when he first had sexual contact with them.
A devastating case that featured at least 11 accusers—men and women—led the jury made up of seven men and five women to convict him after deliberating for nine hours. And even if her own allegations—which Kelly has denied—did not factor into the federal trial, Jones took some solace in the former musician’s new identity as a sex criminal.
“Twelve people who had no connection to any of us and probably didn’t watch or follow our stories individually had an open mind and listened and took our side,” Jones, a now-successful author who has accused Kelly of trapping her in a two-year-long relationship and repeatedly abusing her, told The Daily Beast.
“I allowed myself a few hours to get my tears out today—and now I am just celebrating this win. But we have a long way to go, this isn’t over,” Jones said.
During the six-week-long trial, jurors heard from 50 witnesses from both the prosecution and the defense about the inner workings of Kelly’s personal and professional life. In addition to testifying about alleged criminal conduct, the witnesses—who ranged from former girlfriends to assistants to music executives—detailed Kelly’s nocturnal lifestyle, an affinity for playing basketball in front of an audience, and strict rules the singer made his staff and personal guests obey.
Among those witnesses was Jerhonda Pace, who detailed how she was sexually and physically abused by Kelly when she was 16 years old. During a six-month relationship that ended in Jan. 2010 after the singer violently slapped her and called her a “silly bitch” for lying, Pace said, Kelly also gave her herpes and never told her he had a sexually transmitted disease.
“He wanted me to put my hair up in pigtails and dress like a girl scout,” Pace, who was the first witness to testify, said. “He recorded us having sexual intercourse.”
On Monday, Pace took to Instagram to express her sentiments about Monday’s verdict.
“Verdict? GUILTY,” Pace, 28, wrote.
Another accuser who took the stand, identified only as Sonja, said in a statement to The Daily Beast that she was “happy with the verdict and thankful that the jury listened to us.”
“I’ve been hiding from Robert Kelly in fear, due to threats made against me, and I’m ready to start living my life free from fear, and to start the healing process,” Sonja said.
Jones, for her part, did not testify at Kelly’s New York trial, though her allegations mirror those of survivors who took the stand. She first met Kelly in June 2011, when her Dallas radio station organized an after-party for one of his concerts. Two weeks after moving into his Chicago home, Jones said, Kelly sought to control everything about her life—from her choice of clothes to when she was allowed to use the bathroom.
During their relationship, the former DJ alleges she was beaten, starved, and forced to have sex with other women while living at Kelly’s Chicago compound, before she finally left in 2013.
Commending those who took the stand, Jones admitted she did have doubts this past Friday when she learned jurors had not reached a verdict after an afternoon of deliberation.
“I got a little nervous last week, when I heard that the jurors were going into the weekend,” she said. “You don’t know what they were thinking. But just to know that today they came in and didn’t take the entire day, that’s all that matters.”
Gerald Griggs, an attorney who represents several Kelly accusers and their families, told The Daily Beast he was “happy and relieved” that the singer is finally paying for his crimes. Among Griggs’ clients are the parents of Joycelyn Savage, who still identifies herself as one of Kelly’s girlfriends and was nowhere to be seen during the trial. Savage did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“Today was the beginning of the end of a very long journey. Since 2017, we have been working with survivors and families to bring R. Kelly to justice. Today, the jury heard the voices of Black women loud and clear, and it's important that we center them at this moment,” Griggs told The Daily Beast, adding that the Savages were also “relieved” by the conviction.
“Mr. Kelly’s crimes have now been put front and center, and we are working on the healing process as we begin the other trials," Griggs continued, noting that his clients wanted to thank the Brooklyn prosecutors and the jury for listening.”
Gloria Allred, a lawyer for several of Kelly’s accusers, also praised the verdict outside the Brooklyn federal courthouse on Monday.
“R. Kelly thought that he could get away with all of this, but he didn’t, because despite the fact that he thought he could control all of his victims, he was wrong,” Allred said.
“Because of their courage and the outstanding work of federal agents and prosecutors in this case, justice has been done,” Allred added. “Let this be a message to other celebrities who also use their fame to prey on their fans and others who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with them: You’re also likely to face serious consequences for your criminal conduct.”
Also on Monday, survivor advocacy groups highlighted Kelly’s conviction as a major stepping stone in seeing sexual-assault cases be heard by the system.
“We hope this verdict brings some sense of justice to the brave survivors who came forward,” #MuteRKelly—the group that advocated the R&B singer be held accountable for decades of sexual abuse accusations with a boycott of his music starting in 2017–said on Twitter.
Several more victims were also expected to come forward for federal and state cases in Chicago and Minnesota that the singer still faces.
As for Jones, Monday’s conviction means that “everyone can kind of get back to their lives—somewhat.
“At least for myself, I finally have some peace of mind,” she said.