Jussie Smollett verdict: Ex-'Empire' actor convicted of staging attack, lying to Chicago police
CHICAGO - Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett was convicted Thursday on charges he staged a racist and homophobic attack on himself in January 2019 and then lied to Chicago police about it.
Smollett showed no visible reaction as the verdict was read. He and his family later left the courthouse without comment.
The jury found the 39-year-old guilty on five counts of disorderly conduct — one count for each separate time he was charged with lying to police in the days immediately after the alleged attack. He was acquitted on a sixth count, of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for Jan. 27, and said he would schedule Smollett's sentencing at a later date. Disorderly conduct is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if convicted, Smollett would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
The damage to his personal and professional life may be more severe. Smollett lost his role on the TV program "Empire," which was filmed in Chicago, after prosecutors said the alleged attack was a hoax, and he told jurors earlier this week, "I’ve lost my livelihood."
The jury deliberated for just over nine hours Wednesday and Thursday after a roughly one-week trial in which two brothers testified that Smollett recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago three years ago.
Initial charges brought in February 2019 that accused the former "Empire" actor of faking the assault were soon after tossed. But in February 2020, after special prosecutor Dan Webb looked into the case, a new six-count indictment was filed.
"The Jury has spoken. While this case has garnered a lot of attention, we hope as a county we can move forward. At the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office we will continue to focus on the important work of this office, prioritizing and prosecuting violent crime," Kim Foxx's office said in a statement following the guilty verdict.
JUSSIE SMOLLETT TRIAL FULL COVERAGE
Closing arguments took place Wednesday morning when special prosecutor Dan Webb said what Smollett did in January 2019 caused Chicago police to spend enormous amounts of time and resources investigating an alleged crime that turned out to be fake. Smollett, who is Black and gay, told police someone put a noose around his neck and yelled racist and homophobic slurs.
"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.
He also accused Smollett of lying to jurors, saying surveillance video from before the alleged attack and that night contradicts key moments of Smollett’s testimony.
"At the end of the day, he lacks any credibility whatsoever," Webb said.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche called the Osundairo brothers "sophisticated liars" who may have been motivated to attack Smollett because of homophobia or because they wanted to be hired to work as his security.
"These guys want to make money," he said.
Uche said in his closing argument that during testimony last week in the Chicago courtroom, one of the brothers "said ‘I don’t recall’ so many times, it is ridiculous."
"The entire prosecution’s case, including the foundation of the case, is built like a house of cards," Uche said.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of a real hate crime, telling jurors "there was no hoax." He called the brothers who testified against him "liars" and said the $3,500 check he wrote them was for meal and workout plans — not to help carry out the fake assault.
Smollett testified that he was returning home from buying a sandwich around 2 a.m. when someone yelled a racist, homophobic remark that referenced the TV show "Empire." The person also shouted something about "MAGA country," an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan "Make America Great Again." The slogan also had been scrawled on some hate mail – that included a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose – that Smollett had received at the "Empire" set, he testified.
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Smollett said when he turned to confront the person, a man hit him in the head and he fell to the ground, where he said another man kicked him before the attackers ran away. Smollett said he noticed a rope, like a noose, around his neck after the attack. When he returned home, a friend called Chicago police, something Smollett said he wouldn’t have done because as a Black man he doesn’t trust police.
JUSSIE SMOLLETT TESTIMONY: 'I AM A BLACK MAN IN AMERICA, I DO NOT TRUST POLICE'
The report made headlines around the world and prompted a massive manhunt in Chicago, with roughly two dozen police joining the investigation. It also drew criticism from Trump, who called the police department’s handling of the case "an absolute embarrassment to our country."
"Not only did Mr. Smollett lie to the police and wreak havoc here in the city for weeks on end for no reason whatsoever, but then he compounded the problem by lying under oath to a jury," special prosecutor Dan Webb said after Thursday’s verdict.
Smollett's attorney declared the actor's innocence again Thursday after the jury found him guilty. Uche said Smollett would appeal the conviction, and is "100% confident" his name will be cleared by an appellate court.
"Unfortunately we were facing an uphill battle where Jussie was already tried and convicted in the media and then we had to somehow get the jury to forget or unsee all the news stories that they had been hearing that were negative for the last three years," Uche told reporters after the verdict.
Asked Thursday if Smollett could be charged with perjury for lying on the witness stand, Webb said perjury charges "generally" don’t happen after a defendant is convicted, but that it was unclear what would happen in Smollett’s case.
He also said the Chicago Police Department was vindicated by the jury’s verdict.
"A lot of times people say, ‘Well, police officers sweep things under the rug.’ This police department responded by absolutely testifying in this trial that they took it seriously," Webb said. "They believed he was a victim of a crime and they worked so hard for the next three weeks."
But Uche said Chicago police should have investigated the case "much more," and that there were some witnesses who were never interviewed.
He called the jury’s split verdict "inconsistent," saying it made no sense for Smollett to be convicted of five counts but not the sixth charge, since "everything stems from one incident."
An attorney for Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, the brothers who testified against Smollett, said her clients "could not be more thrilled and pleased with the results."
Chicago police "got this one right," Gloria Rodriguez said.
GUILTY: Count 1 accused him of telling responding Chicago Police Officer Muhammed Baig at around 2:45 a.m., some 45 minutes after the purported attack, that he was the victim of a hate crime. He said two attackers put a rope around his neck. Count 2 refers to Smollett telling the same officer he was a victim of a battery, describing attackers beating and pouring bleach on him.
GUILTY: Counts 3 and 4 are when Smollett made the same claims but to a different officer, Kimberly Murray, later that morning, at just before 6 a.m.
GUILTY: Count 5 accuses Smollett of again telling Murray at around 7:15 p.m. that he was the victim of a battery.
NOT GUILTY: Count 6 refers to Smollett reporting on Feb. 14, 2019, to detective Robert Graves that he’d been a victim of an aggravated battery.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.