Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett was convicted Thursday on an array of charges connected to a 2019 incident in which he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself and then lied to Chicago police about it.
In the courtroom, as the verdict was read, Smollett stood and faced the jury, showing no visible reaction.
The jury found the 39-year-old guilty on five counts of disorderly conduct — one count for each separate time he was charged with lying to police in the days immediately after the alleged attack. He was acquitted on a sixth count, of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
He faces up to three years in prison but could also be sentenced to probation and community service.
Smollett rose to prominence in 2015 on the critically acclaimed Fox drama "Empire," portraying a Black gay musician – a role which somewhat mirrored his real life as an openly gay singer – but his fame exploded in the days after he told police that he was the target of a racist, homophobic attack that occurred on the streets of Chicago in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019.
Two unknown assailants were said to have shouted racial and anti-gay slurs at Smollett as he left a Subway restaurant at 2 a.m. before beating him, pouring an “unknown chemical substance” on him, and looping a rope – which was referred to as a “noose” in some accounts – around his neck. After returning to his apartment and calling the police, Smollett was treated for minor injuries at a hospital and released.
Smollett reportedly told police in a subsequent interview that his attackers shouted, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to then-President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and a detail that seemed out of place in a Democrat stronghold such as Chicago.
Still, liberal politicians swiftly backed Smollett and framed his story as an example of the alleged social justice crisis in America.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who at the time was making a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, tweeted hours after the first reports of the incident and wrote that what happened to Smollett “was an attempted modern-day lynching.”
“No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin,” Harris tweeted. “We must confront this hate.”
President Joe Biden, also seeking the Democratic nomination at the time, similarly wrote: “What happened today to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in this country. We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts. We are with you, Jussie.”
A few days after claiming he was attacked, Smollett appeared for a concert in West Hollywood and reportedly teared up as he told the crowd, “Regardless of what anyone says, I will only stand for love. We hope that you all stand with us.”
But as his notoriety increased, so, too, did scrutiny of Smollett’s story.
Chicago cops quickly zeroed in on a pair of men they believed to be behind the attack: two Black brothers who were arrested about two weeks after the alleged hate crime and who quickly confessed to police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the assault.
Abimbola Osundairo testified during Smollett’s trial that he and his brother, Olabinjo, were directed in every aspect of the attack by Smollett – down to the actor driving the duo to the scene of the planned attack as something of a dry run hours before it was to occur. Smollett even noted the presence of a security camera which he believed would capture the attack, Osundairo said, giving the hoax a visual element that would increase its power in the media. The camera, however, was facing a different direction hours later when the trio returned and there’s no video of the encounter.
Osundairo told the court that Smollett even gave him and his brother a script, telling them to use the words “Empire,” “f----t,” “n----r,” and “MAGA.” Then he choreographed the beating itself.
“He wanted me to punch him, but he wanted me to pull the punch, so I didn’t hurt him and then he wanted me to tussle him and throw him to the ground and give him a bruise,” said Osundairo.
He added that Smollett claimed he decided to stage the beating because a supposed piece of racist hate mail he’d received was not taken more seriously by Empire’s corporate bosses. Police have since said, however, that they suspect Smollett may have sent that letter to himself.
Smollett has steadfastly denied that the attack was staged, and his defense attorney, Nenye Uche told the jury that the actor “is a real victim” and claimed the Osundairo brothers were homophobic and assaulted Smollett “because of who he is.”
Newsmax wire services contributed to this report.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.