Jussie Smollett is again in court in Chicago accused of manufacturing a hate crime where he played the starring role of victim. Prosecutors allege that the actor on the popular show Empire engineered the attack by paying brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, with whom he was friendly. Smollett was concerned about being written out of the show and used the attack to bolster his public profile and leftist political bona fides. The trial started Monday, November 29, before Cook County Judge James Linn, and is expected to last a week.
Faking The Hate
Smollett said two men wearing masks and red MAGA hats attacked him at 2 a.m. on a frigid January 29, 2019, in the trendy Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago. He claimed they punched him, put a noose around his neck, and poured bleach on him while shouting, “This MAGA country, ni—–!” In addition to the racial slur, Smollett said they called him a homophobic insult, providing two bases for hate crimes charges against the perpetrators. That’s if the attack actually happened.
The police investigation led to brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, who quickly admitted to cooperating with Smollett to fake the assault. According to the duo, Smollett paid them $3,500 to pretend to attack him – and did so with a personal check! On March 8, 2019, Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts of “false report of offense” related to the incident. He got to walk away from those charges (or so he thought) a few weeks later. On March 26, 2019, all charges filed against Smollett were dropped in exchange for 16 hours of community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond.
Nice Deal If You Can Get It
Kim Foxx, the state’s attorney, gave him a sweetheart deal. Too sweet. A retired appeals court judge, Sheila O’Brien, petitioned the Cook County Courts to appoint a special prosecutor. The court appointed Dan K. Webb, who successfully brought a second indictment against Jussie Smollett in February of 2020.
This will likely be the world’s most-watched disorderly conduct case. Mr. Smollett is being prosecuted for violating the Illinois disorderly conduct statute, which prohibits false reporting of crimes. According to AP crime reporter Michael Tarm, the same law has been used to prosecute a man for lying about “being beaten and robbed of tickets to an Oprah Winfrey show.” That man had “concocted the story, even cutting his own forehead with a rock, to conceal from his wife that he’d never had tickets. He pleaded guilty and did no time in prison.”
These are low-level crimes but still felonies. Convictions under the statute carry a possible term of imprisonment of up to three years. Commentators with knowledge of Illinois sentencing suggest Smollett’s lack of criminal past means he may only see a probation sentence if found guilty. While he may dodge prison, there are collateral consequences to felony convictions that include losing the right to vote and the right to keep and bear arms. While unlikely to affect Smollett, felons generally cannot obtain professional licenses from state agencies or hold permits from them.
After his criminal trial concludes, Mr. Smollett faces a civil suit from the city of Chicago over his refusal to repay $130,000 the city says it cost to investigate the fake hate crime.
~ Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.