A judge Monday sentenced the brother of superstar rapper Nicki Minaj to 25 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting his former stepdaughter in their Baldwin home — a crime the defendant claimed at trial never happened and was fabricated to try to extort $25 million from his famous sibling.
Jelani Maraj's sentencing followed State Supreme Court Justice Robert McDonald’s decision last year not to set aside the man's conviction after a jury misconduct inquiry.
A Nassau County jury in 2017 convicted Maraj of predatory sexual assault on a child and child endangerment.
"She was 11 years old and you did this," McDonald told Maraj on Monday, calling the victim and her younger brother "heroes" for coming forward about the abuse.
The young woman also spoke in court Monday, sharing how the trauma of abuse changed her life and how she'd had anxiety attacks and even suicidal thoughts.
But she said nearly five years later, she was recovering and pleased her voice had been heard and justice would be done.
The victim testified during the trial that Maraj raped her repeatedly in 2015 while her mother was at work, with the abuse starting when she was 11.
The victim’s brother testified he saw Maraj touching his sister after walking into a bedroom in the home and seeing them partially unclothed.
The prosecution said the boy “unlocked a massive ugly secret” when he later revealed what he’d seen to a child protection worker after his sister sparked an investigation while talking to a school counselor.
Prosecutor Emma Slane asked Monday for the top punishment for Maraj — which he got — saying his "despicable" crimes cost the victim her childhood.
The judge said his heart was like a "stone" when it came to pleas for mercy from those who advocated on Maraj's behalf, which included letters from the defendant's sister and other supporters.
Nicki Minaj's letter, dated Sept. 19, 2016, described her brother as "the most patient, gentle, genuine, giving, selfless man" she knows and someone "who came to my mother's rescue often when she endured domestic violence so that she & I could sleep peacefully at night."
The rapper, in the letter, also accused the victim's mother of trying to extort her and asked the judge to "show mercy" to her brother and "rethink punishing him for something he did not do."
Defense attorney David Schwartz asked for the minimum sentence of 10 years to life for his client, calling Maraj "a good man" who suffered from health issues including hypertension, gout and diverticulosis.
Maraj spoke in a barely audible voice, saying he'd had an alcohol problem and asking for a "second chance" while apologizing in a way his attorney said later was not a criminal admission.
Maraj's appellate attorney, Stephen Scaring, served notice to the prosecution of his client's intent to appeal the conviction.
"He's going to win in the appeal," the defendant's mother, Carol Minaj, said later.
"There was absolute juror misconduct," Schwartz added.
The judge previously ruled he wouldn't set aside the guilty verdict after the jury misconduct inquiry, saying the defense failed to meet the "burden of proof that any misconduct here created a significant risk that a substantial right of the defendant was prejudiced."
The defense said previously "outside influences" including social media posts and news articles affected the verdict of "at least a few" jurors.
In a statement Monday, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas called Maraj a "child predator" and said prosecutors hoped Maraj's "removal from society" would give the victim and her family "the time and space that they need to heal."