A man from Chicago has been sentenced to 20 months for online harassment after pleading guilty to using social media and text messages to intimidate a victim of disgraced singer R. Kelly into withdrawing her lawsuit.
Donnell Russell, 47, was tried in New York, where he was jailed by a district judge. Announcing the sentence, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said Russell had waged an online campaign “ to harass, intimidate, and cause substantial emotional distress” to the plaintiff, known only as “Jane Doe.”
“For more than a year, the defendant engaged in a vicious campaign to harass, humiliate and threaten the victim in order to force her to dismiss her lawsuit against R. Kelly and stop speaking publicly about him,” said US Attorney Breon Peace.
“The punishment meted out to the defendant today is a victory for crime victims, particularly those of sexual assault and abuse, who are often reluctant to come forward[...] given the trauma and fear of retaliation associated with publicly discussing their experiences.”
In a campaign of intimidation that lasted from 2018 to 2020, Russell, who claimed to be R. Kelly’s manager and friend, used a combination of digital and analog communication to terrorize the unnamed victim, described only by the anonymous alias of Jane Doe, into withdrawing her civil lawsuit against the singer, who has since been convicted.
The court had heard how Russell sent an SMS to the victim and her mother in January 2019, threatening to expose her if she didn’t cease legal action: “Pull the plug or you’ll be exposed.”
A few days after doing that, he set up a Facebook page under his web alias Colon Dunn with the title Surviving Lies – a twisted reference to the Surviving R. Kelly documentary released by the Lifetime cable channel around the same time. There, he posted screenshots of text messages between Kelly and Doe that contained explicit photos of the victim.
The following year, Russell continued his internet-based campaign of defamation when he appeared in two live-streamed interviews hosted by vloggers in support of R. Kelly.
R. Kelly pleaded guilty before a New York court in September 2021 to eight counts of sex trafficking and one of racketeering, for which he was handed a 30-year jail term. He has claimed that he was sexually abused as a child by a female family member.
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