Actor Jussie Smollett found guilty of falsely reporting a hate crime against him in 2019

Kamil Krzaczynski
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  • Jussie Smollett
    Jussie Smollett
    American actor

A Chicago jury reached guilty verdicts Thursday on five of six charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of falsely reporting that he was the victim of a disturbing, hate-fueled beating.

The panel, which had deliberated since Wednesday afternoon, weighed six counts of felony disorderly conduct against Smollett for telling police that he was brutally assaulted at 2:45 a.m. Jan. 29, 2019, in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood.

The offenses are class 4 felonies and could be punishable by up to three years behind bars. But Smollett has a clean criminal record, making any jail time highly unlikely.

Dan Webb, the special prosecutor selected to lead the case, said the sixth charge was an aggravated battery charge. He said after the verdict that he was proud of the jury, characterizing Smollett's defense as a "completely ridiculous story."

He also defended the Chicago Police Department's response to Smollett's initial report of a hate crime.

"For the next three weeks, these 26 Chicago officers spent 3,000 hours of time costing the city well over $100,000 for a fake crime that never occurred," Webb said. "And by the way, a fake crime that denigrates what a real-hate crime is and to use these meanings and symbols that are so important in our society. It's clear why the police would take it seriously."

Smollett’s defense attorney said they will appeal, calling his client "an innocent man."

"We feel 100 percent confident that this case will be won on appeal," lawyer Nenye Uche said. Smollett is disappointed and is confident his name will be cleared, Uche said.

Smollett left court without answering shouted questions from reporters.

Smollett said two men punched him, kicked him, used racist and homophobic slurs, threw chemicals in his face, wrapped rope around his neck and even yelled out a slogan in support of then-President Donald Trump.

The initial report brought huge support for Smollett, who is Black and gay. Even Trump expressed sympathy and decried the alleged attack, saying: “That I can tell you is horrible. It doesn’t get worse."

But the Chicago police investigation took a radical turn two weeks later when officers detained two Nigerian brothers at O’Hare International Airport in connection with the reported beating.

They were released, and Smollett was arrested Feb. 21, 2019. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his story was a hoax to advance his career.

Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, the brothers who were originally picked up, said Smollett recruited them to stage the attack.

Smollett, who played the gay singer-songwriter Jamal Lyon on "Empire," was written out of the popular Fox musical drama.

Charges against Smollett were dropped in March 2019. He insisted that he wasn't lying, and his team lashed out at police for accusing him of pulling a hoax.

The matter proved to be far from settled as the city of Chicago sued Smollett for money spent in the investigation.

The criminal case was renewed after the special prosecutor was appointed and a new set of indictments was handed up accusing Smollett of having concocted the hoax.

Uche, the defense attorney, said Smollett’s case was prejudged by the public from the start.

"We were facing an uphill battle where Jussie was already tried and convicted in the media, and then we had to somehow get the jury to forget or unsee all the news stories they have been hearing that were negative for the last three years,” Uche said.

The city of Chicago has sued the actor to recover costs from the police investigation.

The city’s Department of Law said in a statement that Thursday's verdict “confirms that the City was correct in bringing its civil lawsuit,” and that it intends to pursue it.

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