A jury in Cook County, Ill., has found actor Jussie Smollett guilty of felony disorderly conduct for staging a fake hate crime nearly three years ago.
Prosecutors said the former Empire star arranged for two men to attack him, wrap a noose around his neck and douse him with bleach in downtown Chicago, yelling racist and homophobic slurs — and that Smollett repeatedly lied to the police about the incident.
The verdict was announced Thursday, days after Smollett took the witness stand to tell the jury, “there was no hoax.”
Jurors deliberated for a little more than nine hours over two days before finding Smollett guilty on five of the six counts he faced, which were related to a false report he gave on the day of the attack. He was acquitted on one count of giving a false report to police at a later date.
Smollett faces as much as three years in prison
“That verdict was a resounding message by the jury that, in fact, Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did,” special prosecutor Dan Webb said at a press conference after the jury’s decision was announced.
The 39-year-old Smollett now faces up to three years in prison. A sentencing hearing has not been set.
Central to the prosecution’s case was the testimony of two brothers who told jurors that Smollett hired them to carry out the attack in January of 2019, saying the actor paid them $3,500 and gave them $100 for expenses.
Prosecutors say they believe Smollett wanted to use the attack to gain publicity for himself. Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, the two bodybuilding brothers who said Smollett hired them, said they believed the actor and musician would use the incident to get media attention — not to file an alleged hate crime with the police.
Smollett testified that he did write a $3,500 check to Abimbola Osundairo — but he said the money was to pay for nutrition and training, not to stage a crime.
The two brothers feel vindicated, their attorney said
Gloria Rodriguez, an attorney for the Osundairo brothers, told reporters her clients, whose names have been “dragged through the mud” for the last three years, feel vindicated by the verdict.
“It doesn’t feel good when it’s on a national and international stage,” she said outside of the court house.
When asked if either or both brothers intend to pursue any legal action against Smollett, she responded, “We’re not even there.”
“That’s a problem for another day,” Rodriguez said, adding that she and her clients have been exhausted by the case.
Smollett plans to appeal the case
Smollett’s attorney, Nenye Uche, confirmed the actor’s plans to appeal the decision.
“We’re obviously very disappointed. We obviously respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict,” he said, calling the decision “inconsistent” during a news conference on Thursday night.
“You cannot say Jussie is lying and Jussie is not lying for the same exact incident. So we feel 100% confident that this case will be won on appeal,” Uche said.
From the start, the trial has been the source of convolutions and controversy, eventually requiring the appointment of Webb as a special prosecutor after Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the case in 2019.
But even that move, which was intended to eliminate “even the perception of a conflict,” was mired in confusion. Foxx initially recused herself because she had spoken with one of Smollett’s relatives and put the case in the hands of one of her deputies. But months later, a Chicago judge ruled that Foxx had not followed the proper procedure in removing herself from the office, and called on Webb to determine if the case should be pursued.
Foxx responded to news of the verdict on Thursday in a statement, saying her office is ready to move on.
“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,” Foxx said. We’ll continue to focus on the important work of this office prioritizing and prosecuting violent crime.”