Jussie Smollett, the actor known for his work on Empire, was found guilty of staging a hate crime against himself and lying about it to Chicago police.
The jury found the actor guilty on five felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report after an incident in Chicago on January 29th, 2019. He was acquitted on a sixth charge related to filing a false police report two weeks later. He faces up to three years in state prison for each of the counts.
Smollett claimed he’d been the victim of a hate crime, saying that around 2:00 in the morning, two white men approached him in ski masks, asking if he was “that f***ot Empire n*****?” He said they attacked him with a rope and bleach before fleeing the scene, shouting, “This is MAGA country!”
However, the police investigation soon identified the attackers as Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, Nigerian brothers who had appeared as extras on Empire. After the brothers were arrested and threatened with battery charges, they said they had been paid by Smollett himself to stage an attack in order to give the actor a public relations boost. ABC News later obtained a copy of a $3,500 check written by Smollett to Abimbola, which the brothers said was their payment, but which Smollet claimed was for personal training sessions to help him build muscle ahead of a music video shoot.
In March of 2019, the case took a surprising turn when prosecutors unexpectedly dropped all charges in exchange for community service and forfeiture of a $10,000 bond. Over that summer, however, a judge ordered a prosecutor to further investigate the case, and Smollett was hit with six new felony charges. The trial was delayed more than a year due to COVID-19, but finally began on November 29th in Chicago.
In court, Smollett’s lawyers argued that the Osundairo brothers attacked Smollett in order to scare him into hiring them as his security guards. They also contended that Smollett and Abimbola had been in a relationship, smoking weed together and once masturbating each other at a Chicago bathhouse.
Prosecutors focused on January 27th, 2019, two days before the alleged attack, when the Osundairo brothers said that Smollett took them through a “dry run” of the event. Surveillance footage showed Smollett’s car circling the place where the incident would occur for over 10 minutes.
Smollett initially said he had picked up Abimbola for a workout session, but when Olabinjo unexpectedly joined them, he made an excuse to cancel and drove the brothers home. When asked why this trip involved going in circles for several minutes, he replied, “I don’t know. It was three years ago.”
The special prosecutor in the case, Daniel K. Webb, said in his closing statements, “Mr. Smollett didn’t want the crime solved. He wanted to report it as a hate crime; he wanted media exposure; but he didn’t want the brothers apprehended.”
The jury deliberated for more than nine hours before reaching their verdict.