Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was found guilty Thursday on five counts of felony disorderly conduct for making false reports to police that he was the victim of a hate crime in January 2019.
His defense team said it will appeal the verdict.
Jurors deliberated over the course of two days following a trial that featured Smollett and his accomplices providing strikingly different testimony over what occurred.
Smollett maintained his innocence on the stand and denied the accounts of Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, two acquaintances he knew from the television show. Prosecutors pointed to the brothers’ testimony and evidence that they were paid by Smollett – who is Black and gay – to stage a fake hate crime attack to garner sympathetic media coverage.
Smollett told police after the purported attack near downtown Chicago that he was subject to racist and homophobic slurs by two unknown men, who also poured bleach on him and wrapped a noose around his neck. Authorities investigated the claims and determined the actor orchestrated the scheme, and a grand jury indicted Smollett in February of 2020.
While convicted on five of the six charges, Smollett was acquitted on one count of felony disorderly conduct.
The next phases of the case will address Smollett’s potential punishment as well as his opportunity to appeal.
A disorderly conduct charge for a false crime report is a Class 4 felony and punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Cook County Judge James Linn will have discretion in imposing a concurrent or consecutive sentence for each of the five counts at a later date.
CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson said the judge could give Smollett probation yet Smollett “exposed himself to jail time” when he testified in court.
“When you testify in a case, the judge now gets a sense of what you said,” Jackson said. “What Jussie Smollett said was resoundingly rejected by that jury. The jury did not buy what he was selling. That’s not lost upon a judge. You came into the courtroom and fabricated.”
Jackson told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday that he believes Smollett will face time in prison because he doubled-down on the lie during testimony, required police to use resources during their investigation, and because the hoax itself could undermine victims of actual hate crimes.
“There are people legitimately who were the victims of hate crimes, and how do you diminish them by coming up with something that’s a farce? That’s troubling and you have to punish that,” Jackson said.
“When you’re really on trial for telling a lie and then you compound that by actually lying, it makes a judge – who sits in judgment of you when you’re sentenced – really troubled,” he said of Smollett taking the stand.
Defense says they will appeal
Nenye Uche, Smollett’s attorney, said he “respectfully disagrees” with the jury’s verdict and that the case will be won on appeal.
“He (Smollett) is 100% confident that this will be reversed on appeal,” Uche said. “At the end of the day, we believe justice will prevail. We don’t believe it was done today but we’re very confident that he will be cleared and he will be found to be innocent.”
Uche said Smollett was disappointed but that he was hopeful to get a “fair result” in appellate court.
Lawsuit against Smollett is ongoing
The City of Chicago said in a statement Thursday that it “intends to continue to pursue its lawsuit” to hold Smollett accountable.
The city filed the lawsuit in April 2019 after the actor failed to pay a request of $130,106.15 for the police investigation of his report of a hate crime attack, court documents show. Smollett filed a countersuit in November 2020.
Chicago’s Department of Law noted in the suit that more than two dozen police officers and detectives spent weeks working on Smollett’s case in 2019, resulting in 1,836 overtime hours.
Smollett was given seven days to reimburse the city but the actor’s attorneys at the time said the demand was meant to “harass and irreparably injure Mr. Smollett.”
The city will continue to “demand that he (Smollett) compensate the City for costs incurred by the Chicago Police Department which took his false claims of harm seriously,” the statement said.
CNN’s Leinz Vales, Alexandra Meeks, Bill Kirkos, Ashley Killough and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.