The former “Empire” actor, who claimed to be attacked in Chicago in 2019, was found guilty on five of six charges of disorderly conduct for lying to police. He was acquitted on a sixth count of lying to a detective weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
Smollett, 39, was visibly stoic in the courtroom when his verdict was announced in court. Brand experts say it is apparent his acting career is not only tarnished, but ultimately unsalvageable.
“It’s a terrible day for Smollett because he and his brand suffered a devastating defeat in court. The guilty decision by the jurors is likely a death sentence for his career,” Evan Nierman, CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan and author of the book “Crisis Averted,” told Fox News.
Actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, day seven of his trial in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Nierman added that the verdicts “hardly” came as a surprise.
“His story has become a tragic cautionary tale of how to orchestrate not only a fake racist attack, but also the total destruction of your own future,” Nierman said.
The actor was found guilty of staging a fake hate crime attack against himself with brothers Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo. Since the scandal broke in January 2019, Smollett’s public image has been plagued. The incident led to him being written out of the final season of “Empire” and he claims he has not received work in acting ever since. Although he directed the feature film “B-Boy Blues,” it is struggling to find a distributor.
Howard Breuer, CEO of Newsroom PR, tells Fox News that even if Smollett was acquitted, he likely would have been swallowed by cancel culture.
“The evidence against Smollett was compelling enough that, even if he had been acquitted, it’s questionable that he would be given another chance at stepping onto a studio lot. After all, look at Roseanne Barr, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer. Most actors who have been canceled, so to speak, did not commit a crime that led to a trial at all. They simply did something that made them too controversial to keep around. But if they did happen to commit a crime that would offend or alienate those groups, and they are convicted, that seals the deal,” Breuer said.
Actor Jussie Smollett, center, returns to the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Chicago. Smollett was convicted Thursday on five of six charges he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself nearly three years ago and then lied to Chicago police about it. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh))
Smollett’s convictions on Thursday “ensure that Hollywood will never uncancel” him, Breuer added, noting it’s a “safe bet for a couple of reasons.”
“For one, he’s just been convicted of the very charges and allegations that got him canceled in the first place. Also, Hollywood is bending over backwards to show it supports diversity, and that will extend, I suggest exponentially so, to any criminal convicted of exploiting their being gay and Black for self-serving purposes,” the brand expert continued.
“Hollywood is well aware that Smollett has betrayed the LGBTQ and Black communities in such a way that it might actually incur a backlash from those communities if it gives Smollett another chance. Unless and until those communities come out and say they have forgiven him and would like to see him get another chance in Hollywood, I expect that he will be canceled for many, many years. Smollett now joins Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer and Kevin Spacey upon the Mount Rushmore of the indelibly canceled.”
In this courtroom sketch, special prosecutor Dan Webb, left, cross examines actor Jussie Smollett as Cook County Judge James Linn and members of Webb’s team listen Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Cheryl Cook)
A prosecutor said Thursday’s verdict was “a resounding message by the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did” — recruit two brothers to fake an attack so it could be recorded by a surveillance camera and posted on social media for publicity.
The brothers testified that the former “Empire” actor paid them $3,500 for the hoax and gave them lines to yell, including about “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The report made headlines around the world and prompted a massive manhunt in Chicago, with roughly two dozen police joining the investigation.
Jussie Smollett arrives with his mother Janet Smollett (L) at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for his trial on disorderly conduct charges. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
“Not only did Mr. Smollett lie to the police and wreak havoc here in the city for weeks on end for no reason whatsoever, but then he compounded the problem by lying under oath to a jury,” special prosecutor Dan Webb said after Thursday’s verdict.
Smollett, who is Black and gay, maintained throughout the nearly three-year legal battle that he was attacked in downtown Chicago in January 2019 by people who yelled racist and anti-gay slurs and put a noose around his neck.
His attorney declared Smollett’s innocence again Thursday after the jury found him guilty on five of six counts. Nenye Uche said Smollett would appeal the conviction, and is “100% confident” his name will be cleared by an appellate court.
“Unfortunately we were facing an uphill battle where Jussie was already tried and convicted in the media and then we had to somehow get the jury to forget or unsee all the news stories that they had been hearing that were negative for the last three years,” Uche told reporters after the verdict.
Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for Jan. 27, and said he would schedule Smollett’s sentencing at a later date. Disorderly conduct is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if convicted, Smollett would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
Fox News’ Tyler McCarthy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.