CHICAGO (AP) – Jussie Smollett’s conviction Thursday for lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that came nearly three years later His reporting on a horrific hate crime quickly became part of a polarized political landscape, with people, including the President of the United States, intervening from everywhere.
One prosecutor said the verdict was “a resounding message from the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did” – recruiting two brothers to fake an attack so that it could be recorded by a surveillance camera and posted on social networks for advertising.
The brothers testified that the former “Empire” actor paid them $ 3,500 for the hoax and gave them lines to yell at, including about “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” catchphrase.
The report made headlines around the world and sparked a massive manhunt in Chicago, with approximately two dozen police officers joining the investigation. It also drew criticism from Trump, who called the police department’s handling of the case “an absolute disgrace to our country.”
“Mr. Smollett not only lied to police and wreaked havoc here in the city for weeks for no reason, but he compounded the problem by lying under oath before a jury,” Special Counsel Dan Webb said after Thursday’s verdict. .
Smollett, who is black and gay, maintained during the nearly three-year legal battle that he was attacked in downtown Chicago in January 2019 by people who yelled racist and anti-gay slurs and put a noose around his neck.
His attorney again declared Smollett’s innocence Thursday after the jury found him guilty of five out of six counts. of disorderly conduct for lying to the police. Nenye Uche said Smollett would appeal the conviction and is “100% sure” that an appeals court will clear his name.
“Unfortunately, we were facing an uphill battle where Jussie was already tried and convicted in the media and then we had to make the jury forget or stop seeing all the news they had been hearing that was negative for the last three years. “. Uche told reporters after the verdict.
The jury convicted the 39-year-old man on five counts of disorderly conduct, for each time he was accused of lying to police in the days following the alleged attack. He was acquitted of a sixth count of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
Smollett stood up and faced the jury, showing no visible reaction when the verdict was read. Later, he and his family left the court without comment.
Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for January 27 and said he would schedule Smollett’s sentencing for a later date. Disorderly conduct is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said that if convicted, Smollett would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
The damage to your personal and professional life. it can be more serious. Smollett lost her role on the television show “Empire,” which was filmed in Chicago, after prosecutors said the alleged attack was a hoax, and told jurors earlier this week: “I have lost my livelihood. “
The jury deliberated for just over nine hours on Wednesday and Thursday after a trial of about a week.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of an actual hate crime, telling jurors that “there was no hoax.” He called the brothers who testified against him “liars” and said the $ 3,500 check he wrote them was for meal and exercise plans.
His lawyers argued that the brothers attacked the actor because they are homophobic and did not like “who he was.” They also alleged that the brothers made up the story about the attack that was organized to obtain money from Smollett, and that they said they would not testify against him if Smollett paid them $ 1 million each.
When asked Thursday if Smollett could be charged with perjury for lying on the witness stand, Webb said that perjury charges “generally” do not occur after a defendant is convicted, but that it was unclear what would happen next. the Smollett case.
He also said that the jury’s verdict justified the Chicago Police Department.
“A lot of times people say, ‘Well, the police officers sweep things under the rug.’ This police department responded by stating absolutely at this trial that they took it seriously, ”Webb said. “They believed he was the victim of a crime and they worked very hard for the next three weeks.”
But Uche said the Chicago police should have investigated the case “much more” and that there were some witnesses who were never interviewed.
He called the jury’s split verdict “inconsistent” and said it made no sense for Smollett to be convicted of five counts, but not the sixth, as “it all stems from one incident.”
An attorney for Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, the brothers who testified against Smollett, said their clients “could not be more excited and pleased with the results.”
Chicago police “got this right,” Gloria Rodríguez said.
Associated Press reporter Sophia Tareen contributed to this report.
See full AP coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.