CHICAGO — A jury found actor Jussie Smollett guilty on five of six felony disorderly conduct charges on Thursday, nearly three years after he was accused of falsely reporting a racist, homophobic attack directed toward him in Chicago.
The Cook County jury of six men and six women deliberated for more than two hours to end court proceedings Wednesday and continued deliberations for six hours on Thursday before reaching a verdict.
The former “Empire” actor showed no emotion as the verdicts were read, WLS-TV reported.
The lone not guilty verdict was for Smollett making a false report that he was a victim of an aggravated battery.
Update 8:15 p.m. EST Dec. 9: Special prosecutor Dan Webb told reporters that the verdict was “a resounding message by the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did.”
Defense attorney Nenye Uche said Smollett would appeal the conviction, saying that Smollett is 100% innocent.
Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for Jan. 27, adding that he would schedule Smollett’s sentencing at a later date.
Original report: Smollett, 39, who is Black and gay, told police that in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019, he was confronted by two men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him, hit him in the face, poured what turned out to be bleach on him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
During the weeklong trial, prosecutors contended that Smollett paid two brothers, Abimbola “Bola” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, $3,500 to stage the attack in an attempt to raise his profile, CNN reported. Defense attorneys said the payment to Bola Osundairo was meant for training and nutrition advice and argued that the brothers carried out the attack to scare Smollett into hiring them to act as his security guards, according to The New York Times and The Associated Press.
During testimony in court, Smollett said he was walking home after buying a sandwich around 2 a.m. when he heard someone yell something that was racist and homophobic, the AP reported. He said that when he turned to confront the person, he saw a tall man who struck him in his left temple. He testified that he also saw a second person, who he believed kicked him in the side, as he and the first man fought on the ground, according to the AP.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb called part of Smollett’s story “ridiculous,” asking why Smollett was at the intersection at 2 a.m., WLS reported. Smollett told the jury he went to get eggs because Osundairo told him to eat more eggs. But the drug store Smollett said he went to was closed, the television station reported.
Smollett told jurors that he assumed his assailant was white because he had shouted “MAGA country” and used a racial slur, the AP reported. He insisted that he didn’t know who attacked him and that the assailant he got a good look at was wearing a ski mask, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Smollett said he was the victim of “a real hate crime” and insisted “there was no hoax.”
The Osundairo brothers, who took the stand last week, said Smollett told them to yell “this is MAGA country” during the staged attack, according to the AP. Ola Osundairo testified that Smollett “had this crazy idea of having two MAGA supporters attack him,” so that he could post it on social media, CNN reported. Bola Osundairo said Smollett wanted him and his brother “to fake beat him up,” and that he agreed because he “believed he could help further my acting career,” CNN reported. The Osundairo brothers were both extras on “Empire,” according to the news network.
Jurors heard from 14 witnesses over six days of testimony, according to WBBM-TV.
In closing arguments, Webb said Smollett lied repeatedly while on the stand and that he lacked credibility, WMAQ-TV reported.
“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” Webb said, referring to the noose put around Smollett’s neck and the slurs allegedly used by the assailants, according to WMAQ.
He also questioned why Smollett would have declined to hand over evidence to police, including his cell phone, medical records and a DNA sample, if he had truly been the victim of a hate crime, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Smollett’s attorney, Nenye Uche, called the Osundairo brothers “sophisticated liars” in his closing arguments, according to WMAQ.
“The entire prosecution’s case, including the foundation of the case, is built like a house of cards,” he said, the news station reported.
Officials charged Smollett with disorderly conduct days after he reported the alleged incident. In a widely criticized move, prosecutor Kim Foxx later dropped charges against the actor. A grand jury subsequently indicted Smollett on six counts of disorderly conduct, CNN reported.
With his conviction, Smollett faces as many as three years in prison for each charge against him, though experts told the AP that they expected the actor to more likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
While Ola Osundairo was expected to be present in the courtroom while the verdict is read, his brother is in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he is competing in the USA Boxing Tournament, according to WLS. His attorney said he won a bout Wednesday night and was fighting again Thursday evening.
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