Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett was convicted Thursday on charges he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself nearly three years ago and then lied to Chicago police about it.
In the courtroom as the verdict was read, Smollett stood and faced the jury, showing no visible reaction.
The jury found the 39-year-old guilty on five counts of disorderly conduct — for each separate time he was charged with lying to police in the days immediately after the alleged attack. He was acquitted on a sixth count, of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
Outside court, special prosecutor Dan Webb called the verdict “a resounding message by the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did.”
Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for Jan. 27 and said he would schedule Smollett’s sentencing at a later date. Disorderly conduct is a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if convicted, Smollett would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
The damage to his personal and professional life may be more severe. Smollett lost his role on the TV program Empire after prosecutors said the alleged attack was a hoax, and he told jurors earlier this week that “I’ve lost my livelihood.”
The jury deliberated for just more than nine hours Wednesday and Thursday after a roughly one-week trial in which two brothers testified that Smollett recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago in January 2019. They said Smollett orchestrated the hoax, telling them to put a noose around his neck and rough him up in view of a surveillance camera, and that he said he wanted video of the hoax made public via social media.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of a real hate crime, telling jurors, “There was no hoax.” He called the brothers liars and said the $3,500 check he wrote them was for meal and workout plans. His attorneys argued that the brothers attacked the actor — who is gay and Black — because they are homophobic and didn’t like “who he was.” They also alleged the brothers made up the story about the attack being staged to get money from Smollett, and that they said they wouldn’t testify against him if Smollett paid them each $1 million.
In closing arguments Wednesday, Webb told jurors there was “overwhelming evidence” that Smollett staged the attack, then lied to police about it for publicity. He said Smollett caused Chicago police to spend enormous resources investigating what they believed was a hate crime.
“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.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche called the brothers “sophisticated liars” who may have been motivated to attack Smollett because of homophobia or because they wanted to be hired to work as his security.