Actor Jussie Smollett was found guilty Thursday on five of six felony counts of disorderly conduct for making a false report to Chicago police that he was the victim of a hate crime in January 2019, an attack prosecutors said he staged..
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for more than nine hours over Wednesday and Thursday.
Smollett appeared rigid after the verdict was read in court late in the afternoon. He did not move and was seen gazing straight ahead. His fingers were interlaced and his hands were on the table. He didn’t look at his family or the judge, instead focusing in the direction of the jury. A disorderly conduct charge for a false crime report is a Class 4 felony and punishable by up to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Cook County Judge James Linn will have discretion in imposing a concurrent or consecutive sentence for each count at a later date.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb said at a news conference that he was proud of the jury.
“Mr. Smollett would not have lost this case as he did today unless the jury found that he lied to them,” he said. “The fact that he came up with a completely ridiculous story to explain his misconduct did not apparently have an impact on the jury’s verdict.” Smollett was found guilty of disorderly conduct for making false reports to Chicago police officer Muhammad Baig and Detective Kimberly Murray on the day of the incident. He was acquitted of making of a false report to another Chicago detective weeks after the alleged attack. Defense attorney Nenye Uche called the verdict inconsistent, saying the jury cannot find Smollett lied in five instances but he did not in the sixth.
Uche said the defense team will appeal.
“It’s pretty disappointing, what happened,” he told reporters at the courthouse. “But we remain confident that we’re gonna come back and he’s going to be vindicated.” Smollett left the courthouse without answering questions.
Brothers testified Smollett orchestrated attack.
On January 29, 2019, Smollett, who is Black and gay, told authorities he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack near his Chicago apartment early that morning. After the story broke, many celebrities, politicians and advocacy groups rallied behind the 39-year-old actor, who, according to police, said the alleged attackers attacked him at 2 a.m. as he walked back from a Subway sandwich shop.
LIVE UPDATES ON THE VERDICT
Chicago police investigated the case as a possible hate crime but soon said the actor orchestrated the incident. They said he paid two brothers he knew from the TV show “Empire” to stage the incident for publicity. Smollett said he paid the brothers for training advice and nutritional tips. The brothers, Bola and Ola Osundairo, were among seven witnesses for the prosecution. The brothers testified that Smollett directed them and paid them to stage the attack in an attempt to get media attention. They said that they fake punched him, poured bleach on him, put a noose around his neck and used racist and homophobic slurs — because he told them to.
“Who was in charge of this thing?” Webb asked.
“Jussie was,” Bola Osundairo told the jury.
Defense attorneys also called seven witnesses to testify, highlighted by Smollett himself. Over eight hours on Monday and Tuesday, he laid out his version of the incident, attempted to cast doubt on the brothers’ true motivations and explained his distrust for police.
“Have you ever planned a hoax?” one of his attorneys asked.
“Never in my life,” Smollett said.
Smollett was initially indicted in March 2019 on 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct. But Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office suddenly dropped all charges weeks later, saying he did community service, lost his $10,000 bond and was no danger to the community. He also had no previous felony convictions. Smollett’s character was written off “Empire,” which ended in 2020, soon after his arrest and though he has since directed and produced a film, he has not appearedon screen again. He was indicted on new charges in February 2020 when the special prosecutor looked at the case after debate as to whether Smollett received preferential treatment from the state’s attorney’s office.
Smollett still faces a civil suit from the city that demands reimbursement for the cost of investigating his reported attack. He filed a countersuit in November 2019 that eventually was dismissed.
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