Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

American singer Robert Kelly, better known as R. Kelly, was indicted for sexual molestation and child pornography after a videotape surfaced that appeared to show him having sex with an underage girl. The tape was widely circulated. The sexual molestation charges were dropped and Kelly was ultimately found not guilty on charges of soliciting a minor for child pornography.

Summary of Event

R. Kelly experienced success as a rhythm and blues (R&B) musician from the mid-1990’s through the first few years of the twenty-first century. His fame was highlighted by hit songs and Grammy Awards. He sold more than 36 million albums worldwide and recorded more Top 40 hits and more number one hits than any other male R&B solo artist of the 1990’s. Music critics referred to Kelly as an R&B superstar, “The king of Seductive R and B,” and the hip-hop generation’s greatest singer-songwriter. His career was overshadowed in 2000 by allegations of sex with underage girls and in 2002 with producing child pornography by videotaping himself having sex with a minor. [kw]Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges, Singer R. (June 13, 2008) [kw]Pornography Charges, Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child (June 13, 2008) Kelly, R[obert] Pornography;child Video evidence;and R. Kelly[Kelly] Kelly, R[obert] Pornography;child Video evidence;and R. Kelly[Kelly] [g]United States;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860] [c]Law and the courts;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860] [c]Music and peforming arts;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860] [c]Sex crimes;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860] [c]Publishing and journalism;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860] [c]Families and children;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860] [c]Communications and media;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860] [c]Popular culture;June 13, 2008: Singer R. Kelly Is Acquitted on Child Pornography Charges[03860]

Kelly’s legal troubles began in 1994, when he Marriage;R. Kelly[Kelly] married a fifteen-year-old singer, Aaliyah Aaliyah, using a falsified marriage certificate claiming she was eighteen years old. The marriage was annulled six months later when Aaliyah’s parents found out about the union. Kelly’s legal troubles continued in 1996, when Tiffany Hawkins filed suit claiming she and Kelly were involved sexually in 1991, when she was fifteen years old. Hawkins’s lawsuit was settled out of court in 1998 for $250,000. In 2001, Tracy Sampson filed a lawsuit against Kelly claiming that in 2000, when she was seventeen years old, she and Kelly had a sexual relationship. Sampson’s lawsuit was later settled for $50,000. In 2002, a lawsuit was filed by Patrice Jones, who claimed that in 1998, when she was sixteen years old, she became pregnant by Kelly and that he later persuaded her to have an abortion.

In February, 2002, the Chicago Sun Times reported that police were investigating a twenty-six-minute video allegedly showing Kelly involved in sexual acts with a girl investigators believed to be fourteen or fifteen years old. The video was anonymously sent to the Chicago Sun Times, which had earlier published a series of investigative reports on Kelly, beginning in December, 2000. The newspaper claimed in that series that it found “a pattern of R. Kelly abusing his wealth and fame as a pop star to enter into sexual relationships with underage girls.” The newspaper turned over the anonymously sent video to Chicago police. The video was believed to have been made in Kelly’s home in Chicago sometime between 1997 and 2002. A former protégé of Kelly, known as Sparkle, identified the girl on the sex tape as her niece. Copies of the tape began surfacing on the Web, through Internet file sharing, and through street vendors across the United States.

Chicago police then sent the tape to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab, which identified Kelly through vein patterns in his hands. The police also conducted interviews with more than fifty people. On June 6, 2002, Kelly was charged with twenty-one counts of having sex with a minor. The charges were later reduced to soliciting a minor for child pornography. Kelly denied the charges, stating that he was not in the video. He called the tape bogus and the charges blackmail. Kelly further suggested that the video was a fabrication from a disgruntled former manager. If found guilty, Kelly could have received a fifteen-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $100,000.

The girl alleged to be in the video reported to a grand jury that she was not in the videotape, leaving prosecutors without a victim. Prosecutors then attempted to link the girl to the video through witness testimony. In early 2003, while Kelly was free on bond, he was facing additional child pornography charges in Florida after he was found in possession of a digital camera that allegedly showed him having sex with minors. The new felony charges were dismissed because the search was deemed illegal. In 2006, Kelly’s brother, Kerry Kelly, claimed his brother had offered him a record deal of $50,000 and a house if he would say the man in the video was not Kelly but himself.

After several delays, Kelly’s trial finally began on May 20, 2008. Shortly before the trial began, the Chicago Sun Times claimed that a woman would come forward who had reported to authorities that she and the girl in the video had performed a threesome with Kelly in the past. She testified to the identity of the girl in the video as well as to the girl being underage at the time of its taping. Nevertheless, a jury took less than one day to determine that Kelly was not guilty on all counts of soliciting a minor for child pornography. The verdict came on June 13, six years after he was initially indicted.

Impact

Kelly’s legal troubles did not impact his career in the long term. Critics had predicted, especially after the child pornography allegations, that Kelly’s career would suffer greatly, but after an initial negative phase, in which a tour with hip-hop artist Jay-Z was canceled and album sales reached only 610,000, his career rebounded. Jive Records, Kelly’s record label, continued to support and endorse him through the allegations. Kelly sold 12 million albums and produced either platinum or multiplatinum albums from 2002 to 2008. His 2006 tour earned millions of dollars.

Cases such as Kelly’s continue to influence public opinion about the criminal justice system and its treatment of celebrities. Cynics believe the legal system provides celebrity offenders preferential treatment, and that Kelly was acquitted only adds legitimacy to their claims.

The Kelly scandal also exposed the growing problem of child pornography on the Web. The videotape was widely distributed, bringing new concerns for lawmakers and law enforcement. Additionally, the wide circulation of the video before the trial presented difficulties in finding an impartial jury.

Other critics of the Kelly indictment argued that the case highlighted the low status of girls and women in the music industry and the unaffected careers of those who perpetuate—even celebrate—that status. Kelly’s career is accompanied by a history of legal issues involving underage girls and jokes about child pornography, but he is still regarded as the king of R&B. Kelly, R[obert] Pornography;child Video evidence;and R. Kelly[Kelly]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Jake. Your Body’s Calling Me: Music, Love, Sex, and Money—The Story and the Life and Times of “Robert” R. Kelly. Phoenix, Ariz.: Colossus Books, 2004. An unauthorized biography of R. Kelly. Explores his childhood, which included abuse and poverty. Also examines the child pornography allegations against the singer.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gillespie, Alisdair A. “Indecent Images of Children: The Ever Changing Law.” Child Abuse Review 14 (2005): 430-443. Discusses the nature and difficulties in enacting child pornography legislation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kitzinger, Jenny, and Paul Skidmore. “Playing Safe: Media Coverage of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Strategies.” Child Abuse Review 4 (1995): 47-56. Examines the influence of the media’s coverage on criminal justice in cases of child sexual abuse and molestation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newton, Michael, and John L. French. Celebrities and Crime. New York: Chelsea House, 2008. Written especially for younger readers, this book examines the intersection of celebrity and crime. Discusses how law enforcement handles celebrities accused of criminal acts and celebrities victimized by crime.

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