Could R. Kelly basically get a ‘life’ prison sentence?

CHICAGO — Superstar R. Kelly would not be eligible for release until 2066, a year shy of his 100th birthday, if a federal judge accepted prosecutors’ recommendations at his sentencing hearing Thursday in his hometown of Chicago.

Kelly, 56, will be sentenced on his convictions from last year in Chicago for child pornography and enticement. He is already serving 30 years for his racketeering and sex trafficking convictions in 2021 in New York.

The central question for Judge Harry Leinenweber is whether Kelly will order a sentence in Chicago to run concurrently with the New York sentence or whether he will begin serving his Chicago sentence only after he completes the New York term.

If the singer is ordered to serve the sentences consecutively, it would practically destroy any chance of Kelly getting out of prison alive.

Here’s a look at the possible sentences:


In a sentencing memo last week, they recommended Kelly serve another 25 years and serve the New York sentence consecutively.

Prosecutors described Kelly as a “serial sexual predator” who used his fame and wealth to lure star-struck fans into sexually abusing them and then dumping them. They say he has no regrets.

Jurors in Chicago convicted Kelly on three counts of producing child pornography and luring minors for sex. Kelly was acquitted of the marquee count alleging he rigged his 2008 state child pornography trial.

Prosecutors acknowledged that a 25-year sentence would be higher than sentencing guidelines recommend and that a consecutive sentence would be equivalent to a life sentence.

But they argued that Kelly has “an insatiable penchant for sexually abusing children” and that such a sentence was necessary “to protect the public from him”.


Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, asked for a sentence of about 10 years – on the low end of the guideline range.

She also asked in a series of pre-sentence filings that whatever prison sentence Leinenweber imposes, Kelly would be allowed to serve it concurrently with the New York sentence.

Bonjean said Kelly’s 30-year term alone means he won’t be eligible for release until he’s about 80 years old and a new consecutive sentence would be a “second life sentence”.

She said an extended sentence for Kelly, who is Black, would also be disproportionate since she believes white rock stars have long gotten away with the behavior Kelly was convicted of.


By statute, the default for judges is to allow defendants to serve their sentences concurrently — what the courts call “concurrent” — which effectively means they only serve the longest sentence.

But if they decide that a defendant’s crimes were particularly heinous, they may decide that the only way to deter such crimes is to order consecutive sentences.

Judges are more likely to order a sentence to run concurrently to a sentence imposed in a previous case if the crimes in both cases are related. While prosecutors say the victims in Kelly’s Chicago case are different, the defense says the allegations were more or less the same.


They say Kelly’s crimes were especially horrific because they involved children, luring girls as young as 14 and 15 for sex.

Making those crimes worse, they say, is that “Kelly sought to memorialize sexual exploitation” by filming it. Some videos were made available online, adding to the harm to society, prosecutors said.

“Because Kelly is Kelly, more people have viewed child pornography,” their filing said. “The consequences of Kelly’s behavior are far-reaching, incalculable and irreversible.”


Bonjean accused prosecutors of offering an “embellished narrative” in her sentencing memo “to inflame the passions of the public and the Court” against Kelly.

She added that they have tried to get the judge to join the government’s “bloodthirsty campaign to make Kelly a symbol of the #MeToo movement.”

“The government’s exaggeration of Kelly’s misdeeds is becoming more like a teaser for the next installation of ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ than lawyers,” she said.

That’s a reference to Lifetime’s 2019 docu-series, “Surviving R. Kelly” — which featured testimony from his accusers, including several who testified at the 2022 Chicago trial.

Bonjean also hit back at prosecutors for claiming her client never showed remorse. She said that Kelly had the right to remain silent during his appeal and that prosecutors should not be allowed to use her advice to Kelly not to speak as proof that he is not remorseful.

She added that Kelly’s own abuse as a child and illiteracy in adulthood also gave her compassion. The conduct that led to charges that occurred decades ago should also be taken into account, she said.

Born Robert Sylvester Kelly, Kelly rose from poverty in Chicago to superstardom, with hits like “I Believe I Can Fly” and the sex-infused “Bump n’ Grind.”

Bonjean said Kelly has already been hit hard by his legal troubles, including financial matters. She said its value once topped $1 billion but is “now at risk”.


It is not clear that he will, although there is a risk that Judge Leinenweber will hold that against him. Judges often like to hear expressions of remorse during sentencing. Most defendants speak.

But defendants who appeal convictions, like Kelly, sometimes choose not to. Kelly did not speak at his sentencing in 2022 in New York.


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Find more AP coverage of the R. Kelly trials at

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