Chicago authorities said Thursday that the conviction of Jussie Smollett for lying to police about a violent, racially charged attack against himself came nearly three years after his report of a horrifying hate crime quickly became part of a polarized political landscape, with people — including the president of the United States — weighing in from all over.
Smollett was accused of faking the assault by two men who shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him and looped a noose around his neck, allegedly because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the Fox series “Empire.” But Chicago police and prosecutors never accepted that explanation, and his attorneys have maintained the case against him was rooted in racism and homophobia. After a trial that lasted nearly four weeks, a Cook County judge found Smollett guilty of 16 counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.
A prosecutor said the verdict was “a resounding message by the jury that Jussie Smollett did exactly what we said he did” — recruit two brothers to fake an attack so it could be recorded by a surveillance camera and posted on social media for publicity.
The brothers testified that the former “Empire” actor paid them $3,500 for their services and told them what to yell during it. This included phrases such as “MAGA country,” a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The report made a lot of news around the world and a massive search was launched in Chicago. The police department’s handling of the case was described by Trump as “an absolute embarrassment to our country”. But officials were able to track down the suspect within days of the attack, thanks to an anonymous tip.
“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.
A black gay actor who maintains he was attacked by racist and homophobic thugs in downtown Chicago earlier this year, says he has lost all trust in the legal system.
“I’m absolutely devastated for Mr. Smollett,” Uche told reporters at a news conference. “My concern now is what’s going to happen to him as far as sentencing.” Uche added he’s “100 percent confident” Smollett’s name will be cleared by an appellate court.
Jussie Smollett had faced 16 felony counts after prosecutors said he orchestrated a hoax hate crime against himself because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to become a star. The jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon and reached its decision shortly before 6 p.m., Uche said.
Smollett’s attorneys had argued that the actor was guilty only of misdemeanor charges because he had not lied about being attacked and did not intend to harm anyone. Uche called the verdict “a complete travesty of justice,” and said it showed that “no one is safe in this country.
“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.
The jury convicted the 39-year-old on five counts of disorderly conduct — for each separate time he was charged with lying to police in the days after the alleged attack. He was acquitted on a sixth count, of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Jussie Smollett said he was attacked
Smollett showed no visible reaction as the verdict was read, he and his family left the courthouse without speaking.
Judge James Linn is expected to give a sentence in the case of Jussie Smollett at the post trial hearing on January 27. If he is found guilty of disorderly conduct, he will face a prison sentence of up to three years, but he will likely be placed on supervised release and ordered to perform community service.
The actor’s lawyers filed a motion for a new trial based on his claim that Chicago police “railroaded” their client. Smollett was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack against himself on January 29, 2018.
The damage to his career will be far worse. In fact, it may be irreparable. 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 that he’s lost his livelihood.
If it is proven that Smollett fabricated a hoax, then he will have done a terrible disservice to actual victims and future victims of hate crimes. It will be much less likely for future victims to be believed.
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) February 22, 2019
The jury deliberated for just over nine hours Wednesday and Thursday after a roughly one-week trial.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of a hate crime, calling the two men who testified against him “liars.” He also told the jury that he gave the $3,500 check to the brothers who testified against him as a “meal and a workout plan.”
His attorneys alleged that the brothers attacked him because they are homophobic and didn’t like who he was. They also claimed the brothers made up the story about the attack being staged to get money from him, and that they said they wouldn’t testify against him if he gave each of them $1 million.
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 Jussie 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 the 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.”