An Illinois appeals court has upheld the conviction of former ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett for orchestrating a hate crime against himself nearly five years ago.
Smollett was convicted in December 2021 on five felony charges of disorderly conduct and was later sentenced to 150 days in the Cook County jail.
Smollett had told Chicago police that he was assaulted by two men who uttered homophobic and racist slurs, put a rope around his neck, and said he was in ‘MAGA country’ — ignited a media frenzy as investigators concluded that Smollett had paid the men to carry out the attack.
Jussie Smollett career over
Despite the jury’s verdict, Smollett, who was dropped from the final season of ‘Empire’ has maintained his innocence.
On a 2-1 vote, the First District Appellate Court rejected his appeal on Friday.
Justice David R. Navarro wrote that Smollett’s lawyers had challenged ‘virtually every aspect’ of his case, including the appointment of a special prosecutor, the jury selection process, and the sentence, which they argued was excessive given the non-violent nature of the offence.
Jussie Smollett lawyers counter the claim
Smollett’s lawyers also argued, among other things, that the trial judge had prejudiced the jury by saying ‘So what?’ to a question posed during the defence cross-examination of a police detective, and that Smollett’s right to a public trial was hampered by COVID-19 restrictions that limited the courtroom’s capacity.
The two-justice majority rejected each of those arguments in turn, finding that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion and that any mistakes were appropriately corrected and did not impede Smollett’s ability to get a fair trial.
‘For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County,’ the justices wrote.
Justice Freddrenna Lyle dissented, arguing that the state should not have been allowed to re-prosecute Smollett after the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office initially dropped the charges.
That decision led to intense public backlash.
A judge ultimately concluded that the state’s attorney had not properly recused herself, and appointed Dan Webb to reexamine the case and bring charges if warranted.
Lyle argued that the state should have been bound by the initial outcome and that by reversing itself the state had backed out of a deal with Smollett’s defense.
‘Public policy considerations and reverence for our justice system disfavour reneging on such agreements and should never be outweighed by a cacophony of criticism as to the terms of the agreement,’ Lyle wrote.
Smollett’s representatives said in a statement that he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.
‘We wish to highlight that the decision was divided, with Justice Lyle offering a detailed analysis in favour of Smollett,’ they said.
‘We are preparing to escalate this matter to the Illinois Supreme Court, armed with a substantial body of evidence.’
Webb, the special prosecutor, issued a statement calling the appellate opinion ‘a resounding victory for justice.’
‘We are proud to have prevailed in a case that, we believe, can help restore the public’s confidence in the Cook County justice system,’ Webb said.
‘We hope this decision will reassure the community that our legal system is fair, just, and impartial.’