Actor Jussie Smollett has been found guilty 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.
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.
On January 29, 2019, Smollett, who is gay and Black, 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.
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?” special prosecutor Dan 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 appeared on 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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