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Why R. Kelly got sentenced to 10 more years of prison time than Ghislaine Maxwell

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ghislaine maxwell r kelly
Ghislaine Maxwell and R. Kelly are both incarcerated at the Brooklyn MDC.Getty Images; Getty Images
  • This week, Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison while R. Kelly got 30 years.

  • Judges use an elaborate point system to determine sentences, but they ultimately have discretion.

  • The rape and controlling behavior proven at Kelly's trial was far worse, one expert said.

This week marked the sentencing of two influential people who presided over vast sex-trafficking operations.

One was Ghislaine Maxwell, who groomed teenage girls to Jeffrey Epstein for sex and in some cases sexually abused them herself. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday.

The other: Kelly, the R&B singer who wielded his fame over young girls and boys and raped them in what some accusers described as sexual slavery, who was sentenced to 30 years a day later.

When Kelly's sentence was announced Wednesday, many took to social media to point out a perceived disparity between the two sentences for similar crimes.

Some alleged race played a factor, while others suggested Kelly got the longer sentence because he's a household name.

But sentencing requires balancing a range of different factors.

Statutory guidelines about how many years or months a defendant should get are only one factor. In the words of US District Judge Ann Donnelly, who oversaw Kelly's case, sentencing is "probably the most difficult thing that a judge has to do."

The judges are also required only to issue a sentence for the crimes committed as proved at trial. Maxwell's criminal case focused on three legally defined victims, even though other people have accused her of wrongdoing in other civil lawsuits.

The Epstein Victims' Compensation Program, which identified 150 of his victims, also paid settlements to people who it deemed suffered at Maxwell's hands. The verdict in Kelly's case settled on five victims, although he also faces another set of pending charges in Illinois. For both Maxwell and Kelly, however, the judges recognized that their conduct harmed a larger circle of people and allowed a broad range of accusers to give statements at their sentencing.

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, told Insider that "ultimately, what R. Kelly did was worse."

The age of Kelly's victims and his avoidance of accepting any responsibility for his actions — going as far as intimidating and blackmailing his victims — likely played a role in his sentence, he said.

"With R. Kelly, the girls were younger, he allegedly imprisoned them and kidnapped them from their parents, he married Aliyah when she was 15," Rahmani said. "R. Kelly has a pattern of really bad conduct. He was convicted of racketeering on top of the sex crimes — he was really running a sort of criminal organization for the purpose of sexually abusing young women, and he was directly the one committing the abuse."

Judges ultimately have discretion when they set a sentence

In deciding criminal sentences, federal judges are required to consult the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual, a mammoth document that establishes an elaborate point system. The defendant's crime and conduct go into the calculations, and the total points at the end correlate with a certain amount of months that the sentencing commission recommends a person serves.

Those sentencing guidelines, however, aren't binding. The judge takes arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys regarding the sentence, as well as a probation department recommendation. They also hear from victims and possibly the defendant. The judges are also supposed to consider the nature and circumstances of the crimes. the promotion of the rule of law, deterrence, protecting the public, and other factors.

In Maxwell's case, her lawyers successfully argued that US District Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw her case, should use an older sentencing manual. Prosecutors failed to sufficiently prove she was involved in Jeffrey Epstein's sex-trafficking conspiracy past November 1, 2004 — just at the time that Congress increased penalties for the types of sex-trafficking crimes she was convicted of — so Nathan used the 2003 guidelines to calculate her sentence.

Ghislaine Maxwell Alison J. Nathan
Ghislaine Maxwell is seen in federal court in Manhattan for her sentencing. Judge Alison J. Nathan on the right.JANE ROSENBERG/Reuters

The total guidelines range for Maxwell ultimately amounted to a little less than 20 years in prison, but Nathan tacked on a few extra months, plus five years of supervised release, to "attempt to acknowledge the harm that Ms. Maxwell caused" and because of what she perceived as a lack of remorse.

"It is appropriate for this Court, in the face of genuine expressions of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, to decrease punishment because that's part of the message that's being sent by the law," Nathan said. "It's appropriate to note and to take into account a lack of acceptance of responsibility, a lack of expression of remorse as to her own conduct."

Nathan also said the sentence needed to send a message to powerful or wealthy people who might think they could get away with such "heinous" crimes in the future.

"That Ms. Maxwell is wealthy or that this case is high profile is not a basis for increasing punishment in any regard, but the rule of law demands, and this Court must ensure that, whether you are rich or poor, powerful or entirely unknown, nobody is above the law," Nathan said. That message serves the important interest in deterrence and just punishment as well."

Unlike Maxwell, Kelly was charged under the federal racketeering statute.

While the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — which is known as RICO — usually brings to mind mobsters or gang activity, it has a broader use and has more recently been used to prosecute some individuals accused of running organized interstate schemes to sexually abuse a number of victims, like Kelly and convicted NXVIM leader Keith Reniere.

The government charged Kelly with 14 acts of racketeering from 1994 until the time of his arrest in July 2019.

There were six victims named in the case, but the acts involved multiple crimes committed against each of them, as well as kidnapping, and bribery.

Because Kelly's crimes included abuse of a minor in Kelly's care and were committed using computers to facilitate the transportation of minors for sex, Kelly faced up to life in prison.

R. Kelly's crimes were 'calculated' over the course of 25 years, the judge said

Prosecutors requested Kelly serve at least 25 years in prison, but his lawyer argued that he deserved leniency because of abuse and other challenges Kelly faced as child.

Attorney Jennifer Bonjean asked Donnelly to limit Kelly's sentence to 10 years, which would be the absolute minimum amount of time he could face on his convictions.

Donnelly said that she considered Kelly's history in her sentencing, as well as the disturbing details of his actions and their long-term effect of destroying his victims' lives and futures.

She also noted that Kelly was once acquitted of similar crimes and could have reformed his behavior from then on, but didn't.

"There were times in your life where many people might have taken a second look at what they were doing," she said. "But it seems the only thing that you took from that experience was to try to figure out ways to hem your victims in, either with nondisclosure agreements or making humiliating tapes."

r kelly ann donnelly
Judge Ann Donnelly sentences R Kelly for federal sex trafficking at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., June 29, 2022 in this courtroom sketch.REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Prosecutors proved to the federal jury that Kelly used his circle of employees and associates to recruit girls, boys, and women at concerts and other popular hangouts for young people.

Once they were brought into the celebrity's orbit, he would use coercive tactics, manipulation, and promises of success to groom and control them, Donnelly said.

Evidence presented at trial showed that once Kelly established control, he would sexually and physically abuse his victims, who he made follow a strict set of rules that governed how they dressed, how they spoke, where they went, and who they looked at.

If Kelly deemed they broke one of his rules, the punishments were severe and humiliating, evidence showed.

Witnesses and survivors testified that he beat the girls and women, forced them to have sex with each other and men they didn't know, and, on at least one occasion, demanded they rub bodily waste on their bodies while being recorded. They were forced to pretend they enjoyed the abuse, witnesses testified.

r kelly jennifer bonjean sentencing hearing courtroom illustration
R. Kelly stands with his lawyer Jennifer Bonjean during his sentencing hearing for federal sex trafficking at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., June 29, 2022 in this courtroom sketch.REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

"One of the witnesses described these victims as zombies. Louis described an instance where you snapped your fingers and a young, very thin, naked girl crawled out from under a boxing ring — I will never forget that — and ordered her to perform oral sex on you and then on Louis," Donnelly said at the sentencing hearing, addressing Kelly. "There's just so many examples in this trial of indifference to human suffering, of sheer brutality, I could not count them all."

Evidence also showed that Kelly forced one teenage girl he was in a sexual relationship with to have an abortion that she didn't want.

The point of Kelly's sham marriage to Aaliyah was also in an effort to get her an abortion, according to testimony.

Kelly bribed an Illinois official to get a fake ID for the 15-year-old star could marry her and she could abort her pregnancy without her parents' consent.

"Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this case is not about sex. It's about violence, and cruelty, and control," Donnelly told Kelly at his sentencing. "These are not isolated acts of an otherwise law-abiding person. They are not aberrations. These crimes were calculated and carefully planned and executed with regularity for almost 25 years."

Read the original article on Insider