Jussie Smollett, the ex-Empire actor, was convicted of orchestrating a racist, homophobic attack against himself and then lying to police about it.
After several hours of deliberations, a Chicago jury ultimately found Smollett guilty on five out of the six counts of disorderly conduct he was facing, according to the Chicago Tribune, capping what was at times a truly bizarre trial—featuring sex, drugs, Pablo Escobar, a judge allegedly “lunging” at an attorney, a shirtless photo of one of Smollett’s attackers, and a prosecutor being asked not to say the N-word. Even Smollett’s defense attorney acknowledged the case was “crazy,” telling jurors in his closing arguments Wednesday, “You are the ones to decide whether this makes sense.”
Smollett’s case dragged on for nearly three years. He was originally charged just weeks after the January 2019 attack, though Cook County prosecutors suddenly and controversially dismissed the case—only for it to be taken over by a special prosecutor that June. Smollett was then indicted on six counts of felony disorderly conduct last year, though he insisted all along that there was “no hoax.”
As Smollett tells it, he was walking home after buying a tuna sandwich from Subway in the early morning hours when two brothers jumped him, shouted racist and homophobic slurs, put a noose around his neck, and poured bleach on him.
But Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo testified during the trial that Smollett had actually paid them to do that. Smollett wanted attention because he was upset at the way his studio had reacted to a threatening letter he’d received, prosecutors said.
“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 said in closing arguments Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
Still, Smollett had vigorously denied any substance behind prosecutors’ evidence, which included surveillance video that showed him and the brothers driving around the spot where the attack would occur days later, a $3,500 check to Abimbola, and a text in which Smollett asked Abimbola for help “on the low.”.
Smollett said he’d picked the brothers up for a workout at the time the surveillance footage was captured and that it wasn’t unusual for him to drive in circles, according to the AP. The check, meanwhile, was for a meal and workout program, since Smollett wanted to get fit ahead of a music video. And the text message asking for help was actually about procuring an illegal steroid from Nigeria.
In closing arguments Wednesday, Nenye Uche, Smollett’s defense attorney, insisted the Osundairo brothers were nothing but sophisticated liars, who perhaps attacked Smollett because they wanted money, a gig as security personnel, or due to a combination of homophobia and self-loathing. (Smollett, who is gay, testified he’d masturbated and made out with Abimbola, who said they’d never dated.)
“You have to have your guard up with them mentally, emotionally, even spiritually,” Uche said of the brothers, according to the Chicago Tribune. “They are highly intelligent, really smart, and they know how to dumb it down so you think they’re victims.”