Jussie Smollett found guilty in ‘hate hoax’ trial
Actor Jussie Smollett was found guilty on Thursday of lying to Chicago cops after paying two brothers to stage a phony homophobic and racist attack on himself in 2019.
A jury found Smollett, 39, guilty of five of the six counts of disorderly conduct against him. Illinois’ disorderly conduct statute encompasses a wide range of offenses including lying to police. He was acquitted on the count of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
As the verdict was read in the Chicago courtroom, Smollett, who arrived surrounded by family members, showed no emotion.
The former “Empire” star faces up to three years in prison, although he is likely to receive a lighter sentence, possibly probation, due to his clean criminal record.
One of the brothers Smollett hired said the actor staged the attack for media attention. Prosecutors contended Smollett was upset with how Fox, which aired “Empire,” had responded to vicious hate mail that was sent to the actor.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb later called the verdict “a resounding message by the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did.”
The actor’s lawyer said he will appeal the conviction.
In January 2019, the actor claimed to police that he was attacked by two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him and put a rope around his neck in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.
The jury, which was was made up of six men and six women, deliberated for nine hours beginning Wednesday before reaching their verdict late Thursday afternoon. They heard six days of testimony from 13 witnesses. Smollett himself took the stand in his own defense.
Smollett, who came out as gay in 2015, was accused of orchestrating the incident by paying two brothers to attack him. The actor claimed his attackers told him he was in “MAGA country.” But there were no witnesses and no video to back his story.
He was initially charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct, which were all dropped in March 2019 after the actor agreed to community service and to forfeit a $10,000 bond to the city. The dropped charges were slammed as a “whitewash of justice” by Rahm Emanuel, then the mayor of Chicago.
Six new disorderly conduct charges were filed against Smollett last year, and he was unsuccessful in getting the case dismissed before the trial began on Nov. 29.
Smollett testified on Monday and Tuesday, again maintaining his innocence.
“There was no hoax on my part,” Smollett said.
He called brothers Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo “liars,” refuting their claims that Smollett gave them $3,500 to attack him in 2019. He claimed he paid $3,500 to Abimbola Osundairo for meal and workout plans.
Smollett, who played gay singer-songwriter Jamal Lyon on “Empire,” was written off the popular Fox drama.
During his testimony, Smollett claimed he “made out” and did drugs in 2017 with Abimbola, who denied ever being in a relationship with the actor.
Special prosecutor Webb told the jury that Smollett’s act resulted in Chicago police spending huge resources probing what was a fake hate crime.
“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” Webb said.
Legal experts said the guilty verdict was no surprise.
“Smollett is the epitome of narcissism and entitlement. Not only did he lie to the Chicago Police Department, he doubled down on those lies and committed perjury when he told his shameful, fictional story to the jury,” said Neama Rahmani, a former assistant U.S. attorney and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers.
Michigan-based criminal defense attorney Jamie White, who has represented dozens of sexual abuse victims in high-profile cases, questioned the decision to let Smollett testify.
“Smollett essentially buried himself, with testimony that was full of nonsensical, irrelevant anecdotes,” White told the Daily News. “Nothing he said would help sway a jury to believe he was innocent, or even sensible.”