A jury in Chicago, Illinois pronounced Jussie Smollett guilty on five of six counts of felony disorderly conduct on Thursday, concluding that the ex-"Empire" actor orchestrated a fake hate crime against himself and subsequently lied to police about it.
The former actor now awaits sentencing for his crimes, which carry a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison. Though legal experts say the judge will likely take into account Smollett's otherwise clean criminal record and sentence him to probation with required community service.
What's the background?
The conviction ends a years-long saga that began in 2019, when Smollett, who is black and gay, drew national headlines for claiming two Donald Trump supporters, one of them white, attacked him near his apartment in Chicago while yelling racial and homophobic slurs. Shortly after a law enforcement investigation began, however, Smollett's story started to fall apart.
When Chicago police apprehended the two suspects in the crime, Nigerian-born brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo — aspiring actors whom Smollett knew from the Chicago set of "Empire" and from the gym — they told officers that the actor paid them to stage the attack in an effort to boost his career.
Detectives would come to believe the brothers' claims, which they said were corroborated by surveillance video and backed up by in-car taxi videos, telephone logs, ride-share records, and credit card records, according to a case summary document released by prosecutors.
During the trial, prosecutors even alleged that Smollett arranged a "dry run" of the hoax with his co-conspirators days prior to the attack. Moreover, they claimed the practice session was captured on surveillance video.
The Osundairo brothers testified against Smollett in the case, each taking the witness stand to reiterate their claims that Smollett instructed them to place a noose around his neck and shout racial and homophobic slurs while roughing him up in view of a street camera.
Smollett testified in his own defense during the trial, maintaining to the jury that “there was no hoax" and that the brothers are “liars” who attacked him out of homophobic animus and attempted to extort him for money after the fact.
In closing arguments on Wednesday, lead prosecutor Dan Webb explained to the jury that Smollett's lies wasted an enormous amount of Chicago Police Department resources and unnecessarily stoked racial division.
“Besides being against the law, it’s just plain wrong for Mr. Smollett, a successful black actor, to outright denigrate something as serious, as heinous, as a real hate crime. To denigrate it and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such horrible historical significance in our country," Webb said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
This is a breaking news story. There may be updates.