Actor Jussie Smollett was convicted of five counts of disorderly conduct for lying to Chicago police officers when he claimed he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in 2019.
The jury deliberated for about nine hours over two days following a weeklong trial.
The charges cap a winding legal saga following the January 2019 incident, which made national headlines and derailed his career. Charges against the actor accusing him of faking the assault were initially dropped, but a special prosecutor was tasked with looking into the case following backlash. The state of Illinois later filed a six-count indictment under its disorderly conduct statute.
Prosecutors argued to jurors this week that there was “overwhelming evidence” Smollett lied to Chicago police, saying he actually orchestrated the assault. The two brothers who attacked him testified that Smollett recruited and paid them $3,500 to put a noose around his neck and scream racist and anti-gay slurs while all three were in view of a surveillance camera.
“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a 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 on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
Abimbola Osundairo, an aspiring actor, told the jury that Smollett told him how to punch him, but “not too hard,” so he would give the television star only a “bruise.” Prosecutors argued Smollett, who is Black and gay, was angered at the producers of Fox’s “Empire” over their response to a death threat he got in the mail.
Smollett vehemently denied he was behind the incident, testifying that “there was no hoax” and calling the brothers “liars.” His attorneys said he was the victim of a real attack, saying the brothers were homophobic and crafted a story after Smollett refused to pay them $1 million each after the incident.
The charges are a Class 4 felony, which can carry a sentence of up to three years in prison. He is likely to be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.