Cast your mind back almost three years when reports emerged that Empire actor Jussie Smollett had been violently beaten by two men in a suspected racist and homophobic attack in Chicago.
According to reports from January 2019, two men wearing ski masks approached the star, beat him up, poured “an unknown chemical substance” on him, and put a noose around his neck. TMZ reported the pair called Smollett “that f- -got Empire n- - - - -”.
After recovering in hospital, Smollett, now 39, said about the alleged attack: “My body is strong but my soul is stronger. The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.” Politicians Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were among those to speak out against the alleged attack - calling it a “modern-day lynching.”
But within weeks, police dropped their investigation in to the two suspects - and Smollett himself faced accusations of orchestrating the alleged attack. By February, he was named a suspect - only for all charges to be dropped in March. But, by February 2020, he faced six charges of making false reports to the police. Then, on December 10 2021, after nine hours of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women found him guilty on five of the six felony charges involving lies to police. He now he faces jail time. His lawyers said they would appeal.
Here’s everything to know about one of the most bizarre cases in Hollywood history.
After the attack
After the alleged attack took place on January 29, 2019, the Chicago Police Department arrested two suspects, later confirmed to be brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo. According to AP News, the brothers were aspiring actors and Olabinjo had appeared as an Empire extra a few years prior.
The pair, who were also bodybuilders, knew Smollett from the Empire set and their local gym. A few weeks later, the Osundairo brothers were cleared and CNN reported the Chicago Police Department (CPD) believed Smollett paid the men $3,500 to stage the attack against him.
On the morning of February 21, Smollett turned himself into police custody, where he was arrested and charged with filing a false police report. He faced up to three years in prison if found guilty - though his legal team said they planned to launch an “aggressive defence.”
Smollett’s attorneys said to People: “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” the statement read. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defence.”
It was suggested by police that the star staged the attack as he was unhappy with his Empire salary which by season five was $100,000 per episode. His character, Jamal Lyon, has since been written out of the show.
Out of the blue, the charges were then dropped in March 2019. Just a month later, the city of Chicago sued him in state court, accusing him of orchestrating a fake hate crime and lying to police. The Osundairo brothers also sued Smollett’s lawyers for defamation, saying they were guilty of damaging their “character and our reputation in our personal and professional lives.”
U.S. Attorney Dan Webb was then announced as special prosecutor for the case, and he said he would “further prosecute” Smollett in February 2020 following a six-month investigation. It was announced Smollett would face six charges for disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to the police and the trial was eventually set for the end of 2021.
On Monday 6 December, Smollett appeared in court and gave several hours of testimony, saying he wrote the $3,500 check to the brothers for nutrition and training advice. Asked by his lawyer if he made up the attack, he replied: “No, there was no hoax.”
Defence attorneys suggested the Osundairo brothers accused Smollett of staging the hoax to make money. They suggested that after the brothers were questioned by police about the alleged attack, they asked Smollett for $1 million each to not testify against him at trial. Smollett suggested he couldn’t trust Olabinjo. “He kind of creeped me out,” he told jurors. “Every time we were around him he didn’t speak to me. Every time we needed to leave, he made it seem like we needed to sneak off.” But Smollett said he and Abimbola were friends and had had a sexual relationship and that Abimbola had helped him buy drugs. The actor said on one occasion, the pair “did more drugs and like, made out.” Abimbola has denied the claims.
Prosecutors said Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with Empire studio’s response to hate mail he received. The letter included a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose, with a gun pointed at it, and the word “MAGA.”
Despite his pleas of innocence, sensationally Smollett was found guilty on five of the six felony charges involving lies to police on December 10 2021. Lawyers for the TV star immediately signalled his intention to appeal the verdict.
“We’re obviously very disappointed”, said Nenye Uche, Smollett’s lawyer. “We obviously respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict. The verdict is inconsistent. You cannot say that Jussie is lying and Jussie is not lying for the same exact incidents. So we feel 100 per cent confident that this case will be won on appeal.”
Smollett now faces up to three years in prison for each charge.