Former Empire star Jussie Smollett has been found guilty on five of six felony charges stemming from a false police report he filed nearly three years ago.
After about a week of testimony at Smollett’s trial, which began Nov. 29, the case against him went to the jury on Wednesday, for what would be nine total hours of deliberations.
Smollett claimed on Jan. 29, 2019 — days after a threatening, racist and homophobic letter was allegedly sent to him at the Chicago studio where Empire filmed — that he had been beaten up that morning by two men who hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him. He claimed his attackers tied a rope around his neck, doused him with “unknown substance” and warned him that he was in “MAGA country.”
Weeks later, Smollett was accused of, among other things, fabricating the attack, and thus charged with filing a false police report. (Chicago Police superintendent Eddie Johnson said at the time that Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with his Empire salary and sought publicity. To that end, Smollett paid two brothers, one of whom worked on Empire, to help stage the attack.)
Those charges were eventually dropped by prosecutors, but in February 2020, after a special prosecutor looked into the case, a grand jury delivered a new, six-count indictment against Smollett.
Smollett pled not guilty to the six counts of disorderly conduct (which are covered by a section of the law that prohibits false reports to police). Though lesser, Class 4 felonies, convictions could have carried potential prison time of up to three years.
The sixth felony count, on which Smollett was found not guilty, charged him with reporting that he’d been a victim of an aggravated battery.
Smollett, who played Lucious’ musician son Jamal on Fox’s Empire, was written out of the final episodes of Season 5 following the headline-grabbing brush with the law. When the show was renewed for sixth and final season last May, the network extended his contract but said there were “no plans” to bring him back.
“As hard as a decision as that was, for us — and when I say us, I mean the network, the studio and the producers — it felt like it was in the best interests of the show and the cast,” Fox entertainment chief Michael Thorn told TVLine at the time. “Our hope is that all of the controversy surrounding Jussie doesn’t overshadow the show, which we think is bigger than him.”