Jussie Smollett’s trial jury felt they were doing him “a favor” when they convicted the former “Empire” actor of five counts of disorderly conduct, but not a sixth, one of the jurors told the Sun-Times. on Friday.
The decision was one the jury wrestled with, the jury said.
In the end, “we all thought we were doing Jussie a favor,” said the juror, who asked not to be named.
That charge accused the actor of lying to police during a second interview with detectives on February 14 when he reported that he was the victim of an aggravated assault. The other five disorderly conduct charges Smollett was convicted of were for reporting an assault and for reporting a hate crime to other officers in the hours after the attack.
Essentially, the jurors became obsessed with the reasoning behind the latest charge and why it was charged differently from the others.
“They told us it was an aggravated assault because he said they were wearing a mask,” the jury said. But “in all [of Smollett’s] accounts of what happened, he mentioned a mask. “
If prosecutors had charged all counts of assault equally, “I think we probably would have found him guilty” of all six, he said.
In the end, it took the panel of six women and six men nine hours to decide Smollett’s fate. Not all were convinced that special prosecutors had proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt when deliberations began Wednesday night, the jury said.
“It wasn’t evenly divided, but there were some skeptics,” he said.
It wasn’t that the doubting jurors believed Smollett was innocent, he added, just that they wanted to spend more time reviewing the evidence and discussing it.
“I just hope [Smollett and his attorneys] I know we went in there with an open mind, ”the jury said. “I listened to both sides. We wanted to make sure that those with doubts didn’t feel pressured. “
Lengthy discussions weighing evidence and testimony during the trial explained how long the deliberations took, rather than disagreement between jurors, he said.
The jury found there were too many cases in the case where Smollett had no credible answers by the time he took the stand, the jury said.
Furthermore, he said, the jurors were not presented with any witnesses supporting Smollett’s side.
“We all wanted to hear from Frank,” the jury said, referring to Smollett’s creative director Frank Gatson.
Gatson is the person who initially called the police, allegedly against Smollett’s wishes, and the jury said the group felt they could have provided critical details that could have given more weight to Smollett’s testimony.
Gatson was included in the defense’s list of possible witnesses, but was never called.
Ultimately, however, the jury said, they found the testimonies of brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo more credible than Smollett, though he added that the jury thought neither brother had been completely frank.
His testimony, however, was backed up by the police, he noted. That was in contrast to Smollett’s defense, the jury said, which consisted mainly of “character witnesses” who could not testify to the facts of the case.
The senior defense attorney, Nenye Uche, in particular, he said, appeared to be “just shooting from the hip.”
The fact that the defense had accused the brothers of seeking a $ 2 million payment from the actor to change their story did not sit well with the jury when they did not present evidence or testimony to support that claim.
That compares with the “methodical and laborious” style of special counsel Dan Webb, he said. The veteran prosecutor was particularly convincing in his closing arguments and made the state’s case look “perfect.”
Following the verdict, Uche criticized the jury’s divided decision, saying: “The verdict is inconsistent. You can’t say that Jussie isn’t lying about the exact same incident. “
But Richard Kling, the Chicago-Kent School of Law professor who followed the trial, praised the jury for their careful consideration of each of the charges.
“I think it’s a wonderful reflection on the jury,” he said.
He did not agree with Uche’s assessment.
“The juries are [at times] inconsistent, ”Kling added. “This was not inconsistent. In five charges they found that he was responsible, and in the other they were not sure ”, for which they refused to convict.
Overall, the decision was tough on the jury; the jury noted that the panel did not know what sentence Smollett would face.
“It was not an easy decision. You have the mother sitting there. You feel bad. We did not know what the penalty would be. Are we going to send this guy to jail? she said.
The juror said she hopes Smollett will get probation, which seems likely given his lack of a criminal record.
Contributing: Tom Schuba