Actor Jussie Smollett faces possible prison time after a jury in Chicago found him guilty Thursday of falsely reporting to the police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic assault.
The jury convicted the former “Empire” star on five counts of disorderly conduct related to filing a false police report. The 12-member panel deliberated for about nine hours before returning the verdict.
Smollett was acquitted of one count of disorderly conduct, related to filing a false police report.
He faces up to three years in prison when he’s sentenced.
Law enforcement had maintained that Smollet’s claim amounted to a hoax.
He reported to law enforcement that he was attacked in January 2019 near his Chicago apartment by men yelling “This is MAGA country,” a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan favored by many nationalists and white supremacists.
Prosecutors said Smollett worked together with brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, two acquaintances of the actor, to create the hoax.
They claimed Smollett, who is gay, instructed the brothers to punch and bruise him, pour bleach on his clothes and affix a noose around his neck while hurling racist and homophobic slurs.
The brothers, who both testified against Smollett, said he orchestrated the hoax, including a dry run of the staged attack in the days beforehand.
Smollet, who unexpectedly took the stand in his own defense, maintained that he was truthful about the attack, claiming the brothers concocted the hoax story in an attempt to shake down the actor.
But special prosecutor Daniel K. Webb said Smollett staged the attack after receiving death threats in the mail. The actor became upset when producers of the television hit series “Empire” failed to show empathy, Webb argued.
“Mr. Smollett didn’t want the crime solved,” Webb said during his closing argument to the jury. “He wanted to report it as a hate crime, he wanted media exposure, but he didn’t want the brothers apprehended.”