the hoax

The Main Questions Surrounding Jussie Smollett’s Hate-Crime Hoax Trial, Answered

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

As jury selection starts today at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, Jussie Smollett, the former Empire actor, is accused of making false police reports and faces a six-count felony indictment. The 39-year-old, who arrived at the courthouse early this morning arm in arm with his mother, Janet, is accused of lying to police about being attacked outside of his apartment in the Chicago area of Streeterville in January 2019.

Since then, the case has taken some unexpected turns, first when two brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, admitted that the actor paid them to stage the attack and later when charges were dropped against Smollett, who ended up facing a grand jury that eventually indicted him in 2020.

The trial in Cook County, Illinois, is being overseen by Judge James Linn, who rejected a motion to have the trial streamed live.

What charges is Smollett facing?

He’s charged with making false reports to the Chicago Police Department, specifically six felony counts of disorderly conduct.

What is he accused of lying about?

Smollett claimed that he was the victim of an anti-gay and racist attack that stirred national controversy at the time. The actor claimed two white men attacked him, tied a noose around his neck, and poured bleach on him while shouting racist and homophobic slurs in the early morning of January 29, 2019. Smollett even appeared on TV in tears, telling his story and affirming to the American public that he was being honest about the alleged attack. Afterward, several political and LGBT leaders came to his public defense.

It was only later when evidence surfaced that two brothers who worked as extras on Empire were arrested that Smollett’s story completely fell apart. The brothers, who were later released, admitted Smollett paid them $3,500 to fake the attack. Subsequent digital and video evidence would eventually surface backing up their claims.

But weren’t all the charges already dropped against Smollett?

Yes, the prosecutor’s office initially dropped all charges against the actor about a month after they determined the attack was a hoax. The office had reached an agreement with Smollett to pay his bond to the city of Chicago and to do community service.

So why is he facing new charges?

The initial agreement came under intense scrutiny by community leaders and law enforcement alike, particularly after so many resources were dedicated to solving what many believed to be a hate crime. Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx was also investigated after she dropped the disorderly conduct charges against Smollett with no explanation.

The outrage led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, to reinvestigate the case. While Foxx and her office were cleared of any crimes other than prosecutorial wrongdoing (she later recused herself from the case), the evidence once again pointed back to Smollett who was indicted on six new counts by a grand jury.

In 2019, the city also filed a federal lawsuit against Smollett in hopes of recouping the estimated six figures spent investigating his initial attack claim. Chicago paid out at least $130,000 in overtime alone, according to city officials.

What could happen to Smollett?

If the actor is found guilty on any of the six felony charges, he could face a maximum sentence of three years in prison. In reality, he would likely face probation.

What’s his plea?

He’s pleaded not guilty on all charges.

How long could the trial last?

The judge informed the potential jurors that the trial could last until at least next week.

The Big Questions Surrounding Jussie Smollett’s Trial