CHICAGO (AP) — Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was convicted Thursday on charges he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself nearly three years ago and then lied to Chicago police about it.
In the courtroom as the verdict was read, Smollett stood and faced the jury, showing no visible reaction. He and his family later left the courthouse without comment.
The jury found the 39-year-old guilty on five counts of disorderly conduct — 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.
Outside court, special prosecutor Dan Webb called the verdict “a resounding message by the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did.”
Smollett “ wreaked havoc here in the city for weeks on end for no reason whatsoever,” then compounded the problem by lying under oath to the jury, Webb said.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche said Smollett would appeal the conviction. He said Smollett was disappointed but “holding up very strong,” and is “committed to clearing his name.” He expressed confidence the actor would 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.
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” 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 in January 2019. They said Smollett orchestrated the hoax, telling them to put a noose around his neck and rough him up in view of a surveillance camera, and that he said he wanted video of the hoax made public via social media.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of a real hate crime, telling jurors “there was no hoax.” He called the brothers “liars” and said the $3,500 check he wrote them was for meal and workout plans. His attorneys argued that the brothers attacked the actor — who is gay and Black — because they are homophobic and didn’t like “who he was.” They also alleged the brothers made up the story about the attack being staged to get money from Smollett, and that they said they wouldn’t testify against him if Smollett paid them each $1 million.
In closing arguments on Wednesday, Webb told jurors there was “overwhelming evidence” that Smollett staged the attack, then lied to police about it for publicity. He said Smollett caused Chicago police to spend enormous resources investigating what they believed was a hate crime, and that surveillance video contradicted key moments of Smollett’s testimony.
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,’” he said. “This police department responded.”
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.