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After R. Kelly Is Placed On Suicide Watch Amid Sex Trafficking Conviction, His Lawyer Speaks Out

R. Kelly Screenshot from CBS News interview with Gayle King
(Image credit: CBS News)

R. Kelly has been in prison since summer 2019 but, following the judge’s ruling last week that the disgraced R&B singer will remain jailed for the next three decades, Kelly has been put on suicide watch. While this seems like a pretty standard move — especially considering the length of the sentence and the high-profile nature of the case and its defendant — Kelly’s legal team has spoken out. The team has criticized the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and alleged cruel and unusual treatment of their client.

Robert Sylvester Kelly was found guilty in September 2021 on federal charges of racketeering and violations of the Mann Act — an anti-sex-trafficking law. On June 29, he was sentenced by Judge Ann M. Donnelly to 30 years in prison and given strict conditions of release, should the 55-year-old get out of prison in his 80s. R. Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said her client is not suicidal and that placing him under suicide watch is a violation of his constitutional rights. She said in a statement (per ET):

Mr. Kelly was placed on suicide watch for purely punitive reasons in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. MDC has a policy of placing high profile individuals under the harsh conditions of suicide watch whether they are suicidal or not (this was done recently with Ghislaine Maxwell). MDC Brooklyn is being run like a gulag. My partner and I spoke with Mr. Kelly following his sentencing, he expressed that he was mentally fine and ONLY expressed concern that even though he was NOT suicidal, MDC would place him on suicide watch (as they did following the guilty verdict). We are in the process of engaging in the court in this matter as his placement on suicide watch is illegal.

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or — in this case — cruel and unusual punishment. Jennifer Bonjean said in her complaint (obtained by People) that the conditions of suicide watch qualify as such and that the state of confinement is so harsh that it “can and does cause serious mental harm.” The lawyer’s complaint alleged a number of conditions that inmates on suicide watch can face:

Inmates are stripped of their clothing and underwear and dressed in a smock made of material that is akin to the material that moving companies use when wrapping furniture [and are] typically placed in a single cell without bed rails and offered no items of comfort. They cannot shower or shave and are sometimes not even afforded toilet paper. Meals are not provided with utensils, forcing inmates to eat with their hands. They have no ability to consult with loved ones or supportive figures. And of course, they are monitored 24-7 by prison officials. Ironically, individuals on 'suicide watch' don't even receive psychiatric care.

It’s unknown which or if any of these conditions apply to R. Kelly himself, as a representative for the Bureau of Prisons told People that for safety reasons they cannot provide information on the “conditions of confinement or internal security practices for any particular inmate.”

The 30-year sentence came nine months after R.Kelly was found guilty of nine federal sex crimes, following decades of allegations. In 1994, the singer illegally married 15-year-old singer Aaliyah Haughton, who died in 2001. He was arrested in 2002 on 21 counts of child pornography but was ultimately acquitted. In 2017, he faced accusations of brainwashing women, which was followed by a sexual battery lawsuit in 2018. The 2019 Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly (now available to Netflix subscribers) shined a spotlight on the allegations, and Kelly was arrested shortly thereafter.

Aside from his lawyers’ court battle over the suicide watch, the R&B singer’s legal troubles continue. He is set to stand trial in Chicago on federal charges of obstruction and child pornography, and he also faces state charges in Illinois and Minnesota. Given how publicized the former entertainer's legal troubles have been, it's likely that many will continue to keep their eyes peeled as new developments occur.

Heidi Venable
Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.