In a significant development in the Jussie Smollett saga, the Illinois Appellate Court on Friday upheld the actor's convictions for disorderly conduct. Smollett, known for his role in the television series "Empire," was convicted of fabricating a racist and homophobic attack against himself in 2019 and subsequently lying to the Chicago police about it.
Despite Smollett’s legal team challenging various aspects of the case, including the appointment of a special prosecutor, the jury selection process, and the admissibility of certain pieces of evidence, the court rejected these arguments in a 2-1 decision.
Smollett's Staged Assault
The case began when Smollett reported being assaulted by two men wearing ski masks, who he claimed hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him. However, the investigation took a dramatic turn, with Smollett himself becoming the prime suspect.
Authorities alleged that Smollett orchestrated the entire incident, paying two acquaintances from the "Empire" set to stage the attack. The prosecution argued that Smollett instructed these men on what slurs to use and even to reference "MAGA Country," a nod to former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
In 2021, a jury found Smollett guilty on five counts of felony disorderly conduct, a charge in Illinois associated with providing false information to police. As part of his sentence, Smollett was ordered to serve 150 days in jail, of which he has already served six days while his appeal was pending.
Smollett’s legal team has been vocal in their criticism of the judicial proceedings, pointing to systemic racism and political motivations as driving factors behind the conviction. Following the appellate court’s decision, Smollett’s spokesperson, Holly Baird, announced plans to take the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, noting the appellate court's split decision.
Adding a layer of complexity to the case, Appellate Justice Freddrenna Lyle dissented, arguing that the appointment of a special prosecutor and the subsequent retrial were fundamentally unfair. She highlighted that Smollett had already completed community service under a 2019 agreement with Cook County prosecutors, suggesting that this should have been seen as a full resolution of the case.
However, the majority opinion, authored by Justices David Navarro and Mary Ellen Coghlan, countered that there was no evidence of an agreement that Smollett would avoid further prosecution in exchange for his previous actions. The ruling underscores the court's stance that Smollett was not exempt from facing new charges.