(Updated with more details) A Chicago jury has just found Jussie Smollett guilty today on five felony charges, including lying to the police about the alleged hate crime attack on the former Empire actor in early 2019. Smollett was found innocent of making a false police report in the days after the so-called assault that he was the victim of an aggravated battery
Claiming he was the victim of an assault in the early hours of January 29, 2019 by two men chanting “MAGA Country,” the actor who played Jamal Lyon on the primetime Fox soap faces a sentence of up to three years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.
Up until this week, it was widely assumed Smollett wouldn’t serve any actual time if found guilty for the six disorderly conduct claims. However, despite having no prior criminal record, the strong insistence of Smollett’s two days of testimony in his own defense greatly reduced that possibility in the light of today’s conviction.
Awaiting sentencing over the coming weeks and perhaps months, Smollett will not be taken into custody this afternoon and can stay free on bond. No sentencing date was set today, but Smollett and almost everyone else will be back in court on January 27 next year for post-trial motions.
The relatively fast decision announced in Cook County Judge James Linn’s courtroom comes after under 10 hours of deliberation by the six men and six woman jury over the past day. The jury actually told the court that they had reached a verdict around 2:15 PM PT today. The time span between then and now was because it took a bit for Smollett, his lawyers, family members, special prosecutor Daniel Webb and others to return to the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for the verdict to be read out.
After the verdict was unveiled, Webb told the assembled press that “Defendants do not have the right to go in front of a jury and lie under oath.” He went on to say: “Mr. Smollett would not have lost this case, as he did today, unless the jury found that he lied to them.”
Starting on November 29, the Windy City trial saw ex-Iran Contra attorney Webb and law enforcement argue that Smollett had paid brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo $3,500 nearly three years ago to rough him up in a fake homophobic and racially fueled attack for PR value — an allegation Smollett and his lawyers denied.
In closing arguments on Wednesday, Webb called the evidence of Smollett’s set-up of the hoax attack “overwhelming.” Decrying a claim of a phony hate crime demeaning real hate crimes, the special prosecutor went on to mock the inconsistencies of Smollett’s “false testimony” about the contentious matter. Pillaring Smollett for wasting police time and money on investigating the case, Webb laid out a seemingly damning timeline of the actor’s movements and behavior before, during and after the so-called attack.
Defense lawyer Nenye Uche in his own closing termed the prosecution’s case as “crazy” and the Osundairo brothers as as “sophisticated liars” who tried to shake down Smollett for millions and are now working in lockstep with the police and Webb’s team to evade serious gun and drug charges. He added that the “entire prosecution’s case, including the foundation of the case, is built like a house of cards.”
The jury began mulling their verdict in the early afternoon of December 8, Chicago time. Having called it a day at 5 PM CST yesterday and began again at 9:10 AM CST today, if time is any indication, they obviously had a pretty clear sense of their decision
As the initial quick and apparently politically influenced dismissal of the case came under scrutiny and outrage, new charges were laid against Smollett February 2019. The actor entered a not guilty plea a month later as the wheels of justice moved slowly through various lawsuits. Webb was appointed to the case by a federal judge in August 2019 and soon afterwards indicted the actor on new charges – which ultimately led to the verdict of today.
On the books for a while, the trial was delayed for well over a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.