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A Chicago jury reaches a verdict in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett


A Chicago jury has reached a verdict in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett. Smollett, formerly of the TV series "Empire," has been found guilty of lying to police about an anti-gay, racist attack on himself in 2019. Chip Mitchell of member station WBEZ was at the courthouse for the verdict. And, Chip, first, can you tell us about the charges? What did the jury have to say?

CHIP MITCHELL, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, Jussie Smollett, the actor, he was convicted on five counts of felony disorderly conduct. He was also acquitted of one count. It was the sixth count. It was the one that alleged he gave a false report to police two weeks after first reporting the crime.

CORNISH: Can you remind us the story - or the timeline, so to speak? What did Smollett tell the police happened back in 2019?

MITCHELL: Well, he reported he was the victim of an attack on a cold winter night in downtown Chicago. It was January 2019. The two men approached him, yelling the name of his show and hurling anti-gay, racist slurs, that they yelled a slogan of President Trump's campaign and that they roughed him up, and then they looped a noose around his neck and doused him with bleach.

CORNISH: Now, at some point, police suspected him of lying. Two men came forward to say that they had been paid to be part of a hoax. Can you talk about reaction in the courtroom today?

MITCHELL: Well, yeah. Early on in the investigation, the police held two brothers who worked on "Empire," on Smollett's show, for nearly two days. And officials say that was when Smollett that went from being considered a victim to being considered - to being suspected of staging the attack. Now, in court, Smollett tried to stick to his story. He said one of the men who attacked him looked white. He denied staging the incident. But the prosecutors had the two brothers testifying that Smollett hired them for the hoax. And so to a large extent, it came down to whether the jury believed those brothers or the actor. And, well, it came down; they did not believe the actor.

CORNISH: Has there been a response following this verdict from either side?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Both sides have actually spoken here in the courthouse. The special prosecutor for this case, his name is Dan Webb. He spoke here just a bit ago. He said the verdict shows that the jury found that Smollett lied on the witness stand. And Webb said that will affect the punishment he seeks in sentencing. Now, Smollett's lead attorney, his name's Nenye Uche. He also spoke. He said this trial did not serve justice. He promised an appeal, and he said Smollett, the actor, is confident this verdict will be overturned.

CORNISH: That's Chip Mitchell of member station WBEZ with the latest on the Jussie Smollett case. Just a reminder, he has been found guilty of lying to police about an attack, an alleged attack, on himself in 2019. Thank you so much for your reporting.

MITCHELL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Based at WBEZ’s studio on Chicago’s West Side, Chip focuses on policing, gun violence and underground business. His investigative and narrative work has earned dozens of local and national honors. In 2017, 2015 and 2013, the Chicago Headline Club (the nation’s largest Society of Professional Journalists chapter) gave him its annual award for “best reporter” in broadcast radio.He has won two first-place National Headliner Awards, one for 2014 reporting that led to a felony indictment of Chicago’s most celebrated police commander, another for a short 2013 documentary about a Chicago heroin supply chain through Mexico and Texas. Other honors have come from Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the Radio Television Digital News Association (Edward R. Murrow awards), the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation/Better Government Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Illinois Associated Press and Public Narrative (Studs Terkel award).He has also reported as part of award-winning WBEZ collaborations with the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting and the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity.Before Chip joined WBEZ in 2006, his base for three years was Bogotá, Colombia. He reported from conflict zones around that war-torn country and from numerous other Latin American nations. Topics ranged from national elections to guinea-pig meat exports to bus rapid transit. The stories reached U.S. audiences through PRI’s The World, NPR’s Morning Edition, the BBC, the Dallas Morning News, the Christian Science Monitor and the Committee to Protect Journalists.From 1995 to 2003, Chip focused on immigration and U.S. roles in Latin America as editor of Connection to the Americas, winner of the 2003 Utne Independent Press Award for “general excellence” among newsletters nationwide. In 1995, the Milwaukee Press Club named one of Chip’s stories for the Madison newspaper Isthmus the year’s best investigative report in Wisconsin. The story examined a fatal shooting by narcotics officers in a rural mobile-home park. In 1992, he co-founded two daily news shows broadcast ever since on Madison’s community radio station, WORT.Chip was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a B.A. in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He lives in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood with his partner and their daughter.