By Brendan O’Brien
CHICAGO (Reuters) -Actor Jussie Smollett, the one-time star of the TV drama “Empire,” was found guilty on Thursday of staging a hate crime against himself in what prosecutors said was a bid to gain sympathy and bolster his career.
Prosecutors said Smollett, who is Black and openly gay, lied to police when he told them that he was accosted on a dark Chicago street by two masked strangers in January 2019.
The Cook County Circuit Court jury, which deliberated for nine hours, found Smollett guilty of five of the six felony disorderly conduct counts he faced, one for each time he was accused of lying to police.
Describing Smollett’s account of what happened as “ridiculous,” special prosecutor Dan Webb said, “Mr. Smollett would not have lost this case as he did today unless the jury found that he lied to them.”
Smollett said the men threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressions of support for former President Donald Trump.
Police arrested Smollett a month after the alleged assault, saying that he paid two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack in an effort to raise his show-business profile. He eventually pleaded not guilty to six counts of felony disorderly conduct.
The two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, testified that Smollett paid them to participate in a phony attack and instructed them how to attack him. During the trial, the actor took the stand and disputed their accounts.
An emergency room doctor who treated Smollett on the night of the attack told the jury that the actor suffered real injuries.
Each felony count carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
“While it’s certainly possible that he could receive a sentence involving prison time, the much more likely scenario is that he would receive probation with some amount of community service,” former Cook County Prosecutor Eryk Wachnik told Reuters.
Cook County Judge James Linn did not set a date for sentencing, but scheduled a presentencing hearing for Jan. 27.
Smollett’s acting career declined after the incident. He lost his role as a singer-songwriter in the final season of “Empire,” a Fox television hip-hop drama that ended a five-year run in 2020.
His case took an unexpected turn in spring 2019 when the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped a 16-count indictment against him in exchange for Smollett forfeiting his $10,000 bond without admitting wrongdoing.
The dismissal drew criticism from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s police superintendent, who called the reversal a miscarriage of justice.
In 2019, Webb recommended charging Smollett again and a grand jury returned an indictment.
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