R. Kelly’s Chicago conviction to stand after high court rejects appeal

CHICAGO — R. Kelly’s sex-crime conviction and 20-year sentence in Chicago’s federal court will stand, an appeals court ruled Friday in a blistering opinion.

“For years, Robert Sylvester Kelly abused underage girls. By employing a complex scheme to keep victims quiet, he long evaded consequences. In recent years, though, those crimes caught up with him at last,” Judge Amy St. Eve of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals wrote in the terse, 14-page ruling.

“But Kelly — interposing a statute-of-limitations defense — thinks he delayed the charges long enough to elude them entirely. The statute says otherwise, so we affirm his conviction.”

The appellate court also denied Kelly’s request for resentencing, saying they had no grounds to second-guess the 20-year prison term U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber handed down.

“An even-handed jury found Kelly guilty, acquitting him on several charges even after viewing those abhorrent tapes,” the appellate ruling states. “No statute of limitations saves him, and the resulting sentence was procedurally proper and — especially under these appalling circumstances — substantively fair.”

Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, told the Tribune Friday that they were still weighing whether to request a rehearing before the full 7th Circuit panel — a move that is rarely granted.

Meanwhile, Bonjean says she plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court on the statute of limitations issue, which centers on whether a new law passed after the underlying crimes in Kelly’s case should have been applied.

“We believe that is an appropriate issue for review by the Supreme Court,” Bonjean said.

Kelly, 57, is serving his time at a medium-security facility in Butner, North Carolina. His current release date is Dec. 21, 2045, when he’d be a couple weeks shy of his 79th birthday, federal prison records show.

Bonjean said she just spoke to Kelly on Thursday and that he remained “optimistic” about his remaining appeals.

“He understands that this is a process, that the fight is not over and he’s optimistic that the truth will eventually prevail,” she said.

A federal jury in Chicago convicted Kelly in 2022 on child pornography charges for explicit videos he made of himself and his then 14-year-old goddaughter, “Jane.” Kelly was also found guilty of inappropriate sexual relations with Jane and two other teenage girls, “Pauline” and “Nia.” The jury acquitted Kelly on separate charges of conspiring to rig his prior Cook County child pornography trial.

Kelly abused the three girls in the 1990s, when the law allowed prosecutors to bring such charges until the victims turned 25. Congress in 2003 expanded the statute of limitations up until the victim’s death, but on appeal Kelly attorney Jennifer Bonjean argued lawmakers never intended that amendment to apply retroactively. Prosecutors could not have brought these charges any later than 2009, she said.

Kelly is also appealing his conviction in a separate federal case out of New York, where a jury found him guilty of broad racketeering charges. He was sentenced to 30 years in the case; most of his prison term for the Chicago conviction is to be served concurrently.

During arguments in February on the Chicago case, St. Eve seemed skeptical, noting that no federal circuit has yet sided with Bonjean’s position.

Prosecutors argued that Congress expanded the statute of limitations long before it otherwise would have expired for Jane, Nia and Pauline. That’s a deadline extension, not a retroactive application of the law, they argued.

Case law overwhelmingly rejects Kelly’s claims, the appellate court ruled in Friday’s order.

“(It) is not unconstitutional to apply a newer statute of limitations to old conduct when the defendant was subject to prosecution at the time of the change, as Kelly was in 2003,” the ruling states.

The higher court also shot down Kelly’s argument that the counts involving Jane, including the child pornography charges, should have been tried separately from the rest.