Jovante Cunningham welcomes singer R. Kelly’s 30-year sentence in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday. She’s also happy to have her voice back, she said, after no one seemed to believe what she’d been saying about the R&B artist for so long.
“Every victim has the right to tell their story. Enter her account. Be heard, acknowledged,” she said Wednesday via Zoom from New York shortly after the sentencing. “So I’m excited to hear what’s going to happen and how our justice system will continue to handle the justice process for us as victims.
“We’re starting to see justice, and we have more litigation ahead of us,” Cunningham said, referring to the prosecution of R. Kelly, which will still be pending in Chicago and Minnesota.
After meeting R. Kelly at age 14, Cunningham was a backup performer for artist-born Robert Sylvester Kelly on “many moons.” She took part in the documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, in which she spoke about how the adult singer had sex with Aaliyah when the late R&B star was a minor.
Cunningham said that over the years she has been bullied and intimidated by R. Kelly’s fans, supporters and the like.
“Right now people are online and they’re pissing me off and they’re saying my parents get money and we’re only doing this for glitz and fame and fame. None of this is true. None of this is true,” she said. “My parents have never received a dime from anyone. My father passed away.
“I didn’t take money from anyone. I’m doing it because it’s right.”
Now, she said, the healing can begin, although she won’t know what that looks like until it’s complete.
“You know, the Bible says God will reward you openly for what you do in secret,” Cunningham said. “He did all this in secret, so now he’s being rewarded openly.”
Cunningham’s attorney Gloria Allred, who represented many of the victims who testified at the Brooklyn trial, said during the same video interview that many of the singer’s victims and witnesses were put off “because there were so many attacks when they were speaking their truth. Fear of retribution and intimidation by fans, R. Kelly supporters, R. Kelly sellers.”
Sonja, another R. Kelly victim represented by Allred, whose last name is not used to protect her privacy, was among those who said she spent years intimidating people in the singer’s circle after horrific events with him years ago in Chicago Experienced.
“I’ve been followed, I’ve been approached at networking events,” she said, also on the Zoom call. “It’s happened a few times.” Each time, she said, she immediately walked away from the person who was chatting with her and “went off the grid for a few days.”
Sonja was in her early 20s and doing an internship at a radio station in Utah when she tried to get an interview with Kelly, she said. He eventually said yes, but only if she would come to Chicago to talk to him. She flew there and was immediately locked in a hotel room for a few days, she said, then finally got what she asked for from the hotel card.
She took two bites and then didn’t remember getting to a couch but said when she came back Kelly was in the room with her and it was clear she had been attacked.
“Before I left Chicago, I was told not to date Mr. Kelly, not to tell anyone that,” Sonja said. “I never got my interview.”
After giving victim testimony in court and hearing Kelly’s verdict, Sonja said it finally felt like justice was being served.
“Thirty years is just right for me,” she said of the phrase. “I’ve endured this for almost two decades. I am very happy with the set. Very happy.”
Earlier on Wednesday, another victim represented by Allred spoke to reporters.
“It happened to me a long time ago. I was 17; I’m 45 today,” survivor Lizzette Martinez said in federal court in Brooklyn. “I never thought I would be here to see him held accountable for the cruel thing he did to children.”
Martinez met Kelly at a mall in 1995 and dated him for four years hoping for singing tutoring, but instead, she said, lost her virginity to him when she was underage. According to her book Jane Doe #9, she was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused until 1999.
“I don’t know what else to say other than I’m grateful,” she said in court. “I’m thankful for today. And I’m grateful that Robert Sylvester Kelly is gone and will stay away and not harm anyone else.”
According to the New York Times, she said of the sentence: “Personally, I don’t think it’s enough, but I’m happy with it.”
“It was a tremendous investment of time and emotion for so many of the victims,” Allred said in the video call. “They had to go through a lot to get justice. It wouldn’t have worked without her. It couldn’t have happened without her. They were eventually heard and, more importantly, so many of them were believed by the jury. That is a confirmation for many of them.”
“I hope this conviction serves as a testament in its own right that no matter how powerful, rich or famous your abuser is, or how small you feel, the judiciary only hears the truth,” said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, Wednesday in a post-sentence press conference outside the courthouse.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, told reporters outside the courthouse that her client was “prepared” for the verdict, regretted and saddened.
Bonjean – who recently represented Bill Cosby in his civil lawsuit with Judy Huth, which he lost – said Kelly was not a “predator,” adding, “He disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him.”
R. Kelly, 55, is scheduled to stand trial again on August 15 in federal court in Chicago, his hometown. He is accused of producing child porn and enticing underage girls to engage in sexual activity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-06-29/r-kelly-victims-30-year-prison-sentence R. Kelly survivor says 30-year prison sentence is ‘spot on’