Jussie Smollett, the actor, was found guilty of lying to police in a hate crime hoax.
Jussie Smollett’s conviction on Thursday for lying to police about a racist, homophobic attack came nearly three years after his report of a horrifying hate crime quickly became part of a polarised political landscape, with people weighing in from all over the world, including the president of the United States.
According to a prosecutor, the finding was “a resounding statement from the jury that Mr. Smollett did precisely what we say he did” — hire two brothers to stage an assault so that it could be filmed by a security camera and broadcast on social media for notoriety.
The brothers said that the former “Empire” star paid them $3,500 for the ruse and given them words to say, including “MAGA nation,” an apparent allusion to then-President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
The claim made international news and spurred a large search in Chicago, with nearly two dozen police officers joining the inquiry. Trump also slammed the police department’s handling of the issue, calling it “an utter shame to our nation.”
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“Not only did Mr. Smollett lie to the police and cause havoc here in the city for weeks on end for no reason whatsoever,” special prosecutor Dan Webb said following Thursday’s judgement.
Throughout the almost three-year court struggle, Smollett, who is Black and homosexual, maintained that he was assaulted in downtown Chicago in January 2019 by individuals who screamed racial and anti-gay insults and tied a noose around his neck.
Smollett’s lawyers proclaimed him innocent once again on Thursday, after a jury convicted him guilty on five of six counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police. Nenye Uche said that Smollett intends to fight his conviction and is “100% convinced” that an appeals court would clear his name.
“Unfortunately, we were facing an uphill struggle because Jussie had already been tried and convicted in the media, and then we had to somehow urge the jury to forget or unsee all of the terrible news articles that they had been hearing over the previous three years,” Uche told reporters following the ruling.
The jury found the 39-year-old guilty on five counts of disorderly conduct, one for each time he was accused with lying to police in the days after the alleged incident. In mid-February, weeks after Smollett claimed he was assaulted, he was acquitted on a sixth count of lying to a detective.
As the verdict was announced, Smollett stood and faced the jury with no evident expression. He and his family then left the courtroom without saying anything.
Judge James Linn scheduled a post-trial hearing on Jan. 27 and indicated Smollett’s punishment will be scheduled at a later date. Disorderly conduct is a class 4 felony punishable by up to three years in jail, but experts say that if convicted, Smollett would likely be put on probation and required to do community service.
The consequences for his personal and professional life might be far-reaching. After prosecutors argued the purported assault was a fabrication, Smollett lost his job on the TV show “Empire,” which was shot in Chicago, and he told jurors earlier this week, “I’ve lost my livelihood.”
Following a one-week trial, the jury deliberated for slightly over nine hours on Wednesday and Thursday.
Smollett claimed that he was the victim of a true hate crime, assuring jurors that “no fake was involved.” He referred to the brothers who testified against him as “liars” and claimed that the $3,500 check he sent them was for food and training plans.
His lawyers said that the brothers assaulted the actor because they were homophobic and didn’t like “who he was.” They also said that the brothers made up the allegation about the assault being staged in order to acquire money from Smollett, and that they promised not to testify against him if Smollett gave them each $1 million.
When asked whether Smollett may face perjury charges for lying on the witness stand, Webb said perjury charges “usually” don’t arise after a person is convicted, but it was unknown what would happen in Smollett’s case.
He also said that the jury’s decision exonerated the Chicago Police Department.
“A lot of people think, ‘Well, police officers brush things under the rug,'” she says. “This police agency reacted by testifying unequivocally in this trial that they took it seriously,” Webb added. “They thought he was a victim of a crime and worked tirelessly over the following three weeks.”
Uche, on the other hand, said that Chicago police should have examined the matter “far more thoroughly,” and that some witnesses were never interrogated.
He termed the jury’s split finding “inconsistent,” saying it didn’t make sense for Smollett to be convicted of five charges but not the sixth, since “everything derives from one occurrence.”
An attorney representing the brothers who testified against Smollett, Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, said her clients “could not be more elated and satisfied with the outcome.”
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