Former Empire series actor Jussie Smollett is guilty of staging a hoax hate crime against himself and then falsely reporting it to police, a jury ruled last night, nearly three years after the hoax was carried out.
Smollett was found guilty on five of the six counts of felony disorderly conduct, low-level charges, each tied to making a false report to police. The actor showed was reported showing no emotion as the verdict was read.
Smollett will remain free on bond until a sentencing hearing expected to be scheduled in January. He could face up to three years in prison but could also be released on probation or fines. The severity of the sentence will in part depend on whether Judge James Linn determines that Smollett perjured himself during his testimony.
The jury deliberated for nine hours.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, special prosecutor Dan Webb said the guilty verdict was a “resounding message by the jury that in fact Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did.” He called the verdict “complete vindication” for Chicago police, who were accused by Smollett’s defense of making a rush to judgement in the case.
“The work they did was extraordinary,” Webb said of the two dozen police officers and detectives who worked on the investigation.
Webb expressed particular scorn for Smollett lying to the jury for “hours and hours and hours,” spinning a “completely ridiculous story.”
Smollett’s lead attorney, Nenye Uche, said after the hearing that the actor and his legal team were “very disappointed,” and they “respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict.”
“Just because a jury gives a verdict doesn’t mean it’s the right one,” Uche said.
The jury’s ruling marks the end of one of the most bizarre national criminal cases in recent years. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, claimed that two attackers — at least one of them white — jumped him out of the blue around 2 a.m. on January 29, 2019, used racist and homophobic slurs, doused him with bleach, hung a noose around his neck, and yelled “this is MAGA country,” a reference to then-president Donald Trump’s slogan.
The "attackers" were found to be brothers of Nigerian descent, associates of Mr Smollett, who the jury believed to have co-ordinated and staged the hoax at the request of Mr. Smollett.