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Actor Jussie Smollett found guilty of faking race hate crime by jury

Jussie Smollett departs after a court appearance Feb. 24, 2020, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
December 09, 2021

A jury of 12 found “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett guilty on Thursday of orchestrating a fake hate crime and lying to police, which prosecutors said he did as a publicity stunt.

The jury found Smollett guilty of five felony disorderly conduct charges for lying to police about a Jan. 29, 2019 hate crime hoax. He was found not guilty on the sixth count, which was when he told a detective six weeks after the alleged attack that he was attacked by masked perpetrators.

Smollett had faced the six counts of felony disorderly conduct for lying to police about the attack hoax in the hours after it took place. The counts are considered minor felonies that carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Legal experts, however, expected that Smollett would be sentenced to probation and community service, though a judge could order a harsher sentence.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb called the verdict “resounding” and said it “found Mr. Smollett guilty of virtually all charges of everything we said he did.”

Webb added that he made the right decision by bringing the case to trial, something he said he felt was important to do for the evidence to be aired in the public for the facts to come out.

The jury began deliberations after closing arguments concluded on Wednesday, spending two hours before the day ended. They returned at 10:15 a.m. ET on Thursday and a verdict was reached after 5 p.m.

The trial spanned just over a week. Webb argued Smollett’s hoax wasted significant resources when Chicago police investigated the alleged crime. The department had reported that the initial investigation consumed some 3,000 manhours.

Smollett had alleged in January 2019 that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime attack. He had initially reported that he was attacked by two white men while returning to his apartment at 2 a.m. Smollett said the men beat him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs, put a noose-like rope around his neck, and dumped an unknown substance on him.

Suspicions of a hoax arose when Smollett’s story struck as unusual, and he later changed his characterization of the “white” men to “pale.” Those men were later revealed to be two black men, brothers Abimbola Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, who testified that Smollett paid them to lightly attack him as part of a publicity stunt.

Prosecutors had argued that Smollett staged the attack for attention and sympathy after he believed an earlier death threat he received days earlier was not taken seriously by his “Empire” studio employer. The threat came in the form of a letter depicting a stick figure hanging from a noose alongside a homophobic slur and the “MAGA” acronym used by then President Donald Trump.

The prosecution also accused Smollett of lying under oath after he took the stand to testify on Monday and Tuesday.

Instagram and text message evidence showed Smollett communicating with Abimbola Osundairo before the attack, requesting help “on the low.” Smollett insisted the request for “on the low” help referred to his wanting the brothers to help him obtain steroids from Nigeria.

Video surveillance captured the men meeting up before the attack to carry out a “dry run.” Smollett insisted that the men met up to work out together that day.

A date was not set for sentencing after the verdict was announced.