Jussie Smollett Found Guilty of Lying to Authorities
Stephanie Jones is an freelance journalist, author and academic. Her work has featured in The Sunday Times, Stylist Magazine and is a commentator on Welsh radio.
Actor and singer Jussie Smollett, has been found guilty of felony disorderly conduct, relating to offences dating back to 2019. He was charged with felony disorderly conduct after prosecutors said that he lied about an alleged hate crime in downtown Chicago.
Smollett, 39, is best known for his role in the Fox drama series Empire, in which he played the role of Jamal Lyon for four years from 2015. The role won him several accolades for his portrayal of a gay, Black musician. His other notable films as an actor include Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant (2017) and Marshall (2017).
Smollett had told the police that on the morning of 29 January 2019, he was walking home when two men who recognised him from Empire, hurled racist and homophobic abuse at him. Smollett told police that he had been assaulted on a darkened street by two masked men.
According to Smollett, his assailants put a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressing their support for Trump.
Prosecutors alleged that the former Empire actor arranged for two men to attack him, wrap a noose around his neck and douse him with bleach in downtown Chicago, yelling racist and homophobic slurs, and that Smollett repeatedly lied to the police about the incident.
The verdict was announced on the 9th of December 2021, days after Smollett himself took the witness stand to tell the jury, “there was no hoax”, and that two brothers who testified against him were “liars.”
Jurors deliberated for a little more than nine hours over two days before finding Smollett guilty on five of the six counts he faced, which were related to a false report he gave on the day of the attack. He was acquitted on one count of giving a false report to police at a later date.
Many of his fellow stars initially rushed to support Smollett when he first made the accusations in January 2019 that he had been attacked by people that had shouted “This is Maga country,” a reference to Donald Trump’s trademark political slogan “Make American Great Again.”
However, a month later police arrested Smollett himself, accusing the actor of paying two brothers $3,500 to stage the assault in a ploy to get public sympathy and boost his show business profile.
Smollett said he wrote the $3,500 check to Abimbola Osundairo for nutrition and training advice. Asked by his defense attorney if he gave Osundairo payment for some kind of hoax, Smollett replied: “Never.”
Under cross-examination on Tuesday, Smollett said that a few days before the alleged attack, he picked up Abimbola Osundairo in his car to go work out and that Osundairo’s brother, Olabinjo, came along.
Smollett denied the brothers’ earlier testimony that they drove around together – circling the area where the alleged attack occurred three times – as part of a “dry run” for the fake assault.
Smollett said the money allegedly paid for the attack was in fact for meal and workout plans that Abimbola Osundairo was providing so the actor could be more toned for upcoming performances.
Prosecutors had described the evidence against Smollett as “overwhelming”, saying that what he did in January 2019 caused Chicago police to unduly spend enormous amounts of time and resources investigating.
The 29 January assault was reported to police, prompting a massive investigation that a lead detective said included some two-dozen officers and 3,000 staff hours.
The investigation which included video from surveillance cameras, GPS and taxi and rideshare records led police to the Osundairo brothers, who told detectives Smollett had staged the alleged hate crime.
“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” special prosecutor Dan Webb told the jury in his closing arguments.
The verdict came after a one-week trial in which two brothers testified that Smollett recruited them to fake an attack on him near his home in downtown Chicago in January 2019. Smollett repeatedly denied the claims.
Smollett’s defense attorneys argued that the brothers attacked the actor who is gay and Black because they were homophobic and didn’t like “who he was”.
They also alleged the brothers made up the story about the attack being staged to get money from Smollett, and that they told him they wouldn’t testify against him if he paid them each $1m.
Smollett’s sentencing will be scheduled 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 his personal and professional life may be more severe. Smollett lost his role on the TV program Empire after prosecutors said the alleged attack was a hoax, and he told jurors earlier this week that “I’ve lost my livelihood”.