The US actor Jussie Smollett has been found guilty of lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago.
The one-time star of the Fox drama series ‘Empire’ denied having staged the hoax attack in January 2019. Prosecutors claimed that he “lied for hours” as he stood by the story he told to Chicago police.
A jury of six men and six women found him guilty of five counts of disorderly conduct yesterday (December 9), after a day of deliberations. A sentencing date has yet to be confirmed.
Each count carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, although it’s likely Smollett will receive a lighter sentence, or possibly probation, on account of his lack of previous convictions.
The verdict draws a line under the late-night incident, which saw Smollett tell police in Chicago that he had been assaulted by two attackers shouting racist and homophobic slurs and pro-Trump slogans whilst throwing a “chemical substance” on him and tying a noose around his neck. Smollett is black and gay.
After an investigation, police instead charged Smollett with filing a false police report, claiming he had staged the attack. He ultimately stood trial on six charges, each in relation to a different occasion on which he was said to have lied to police. He was found guilty on five of the six, and not guilty on the other.
The jury heard testimony from Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, two brothers who claimed Smollett paid them $3,500 (£2,600) to carry out the attack, which he orchestrated himself. Smollett countered by claiming the payment was for a meal and workout plan from Abimbola, an extra on ‘Empire’. Smollett said he had been in a sexual relationship with Abimbola before the attack.
Smollett stood by his denials in court, responding to special prosecutor Dan Webb’s repeated references to a “hoax” attack by saying: “There was no hoax on my part. Any question you’re going to ask about that is going to be denied.”
Mr Webb said in his closing arguments that Smollett had wasted a huge amount of police resources by forcing them to investigate the incident. “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,” he said.
He continued that “for Mr Smollett to get up in front of [the jury] and lie for hours and hours, that really compounded his misconduct”. Smollett has confirmed his intention to appeal.
Nenye Uche, a lawyer on Smollett’s defence team, said that they “obviously respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict”. He added that they are “100% confident” that the verdict will be overturned on appeal.
Authorities claim that the motive behind the hoax stemmed from Smollett wanting to boost his public profile, and in turn increase his $100,000-an-episode salary on ‘Empire’. He was written out of the show in the aftermath of the incident.