CHICAGO — Actor Jussie Smollett was convicted by a Cook County jury Thursday of staging and reporting a hate crime on himself, marking a dramatic end to a case that captivated the nation ever since he reported being attacked on a frigid night in Chicago nearly three years ago.
After a weeklong trial with testimony from 13 witnesses and lengthy closing arguments, the jury deliberated for about nine hours over two days before finding Smollett, 39, guilty of disorderly conduct for lying to police about the January 2019 incident. Smollett faces up to three years in prison, though with no prior criminal record it's far more likely he would receive a lighter sentence including possible probation.
Smollett remained stoic as the verdict was announced. He was found guilty on five of six counts.
The allegedly phony racial and homophobic attack on the then-“Empire” actor led to one of the most momentous minor felony cases in Cook County history.
Under an international media spotlight, the case spiraled into a tangle of rumors and culture-war flash points, competing lawsuits, a special prosecutor’s investigation, and a political crisis for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
But jurors were tasked with determining only one thing: whether Smollett, in fact, staged the attack on himself, then lied to police about it.
The jury heard closing arguments Wednesday.
The jury first heard from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who said Smollett not only committed a crime by falsely reporting a hate crime, what he did was “just plain wrong” to denigrate something as serious as a hate crime.
Webb said it was particularly egregious for Smollett to make sure his plan “had words and symbols” emblematic of this country’s racist past — including a noose and the use of the N-word.
When Smollett’s attorney Nenye Uche addressed the panel, he said the prosecution’s case was riddled with “doubts” and built on the testimony of two brothers who are criminals and “certified liars.”
Uche also questioned why Smollett would instruct his attackers to wear pro-Trump hats and yell slogans like, “This is MAGA country!”
“He’s dumb enough to go into Obama’s city and pretend there’s Trump supporters running around with MAGA hats?” he said. “Give me a break.”