CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett now faces sentencing after a jury convicted him on five felony counts of disorderly conduct in connection with a fake hate crime attack, with legal experts divided on whether the actor will spend time behind bars.
“I want jail time for what he did,” criminal defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh said on “Dan Abrams Live” on Wednesday. “Every future victim who’s going to be scrutinized by police, rightfully so, because ‘could they be another Smollett?'”
Smollett was convicted Thursday on five of six charges that he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself nearly three years ago and then lied to Chicago police about it. He was acquitted on one count.
The disorderly conduct charge is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years.
Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for Jan. 27, and said he would schedule Smollett’s sentencing at a later date.
Terri Austin, host and legal analyst on the Law & Crime Network, said Tuesday that she does not believe Smollett will serve time. She now has “mixed feelings” after the verdict.
“I think it’s possible he will not get jail time and he may only get probation,” Austin said on “Dan Abrams Live” on Thursday. “I think he’s definitely going to have to pay some money.”
If he does get sentenced to prison time, Austin thinks it could possibly be a year.
Former Georgia judge Glenda Hatchett agrees.
“I think it may be anywhere between six to 12 months with the rest of the three year sentence being suspended and him being on probation,” Hatchett said on “Dan Abrams Live” on Thursday. “And a hefty fine. I would not be surprised to see the $25,000 fine imposed in this case at all.”
The verdict came after a roughly one-week trial in which two brothers testified that Smollett recruited them to fake an attack on him near his home in downtown Chicago in January 2019.
Smollett has repeatedly denied he staged the attack on himself for publicity, telling a prosecutor as the trial neared its end that, “There was no hoax on my part” and that the two brothers are “liars.”
Defense attorney Nenye Uche said Smollett would appeal the conviction. He maintained Smollett is “100% innocent” and expressed confidence the actor would be cleared by an appellate court.
“If he thinks that he’s going to prevail on appeal, I mean, this is just ludicrous at this point,” Hatchett said. “It just drags it out.”
The damage to his personal and professional life may be more severe. Smollett lost his role on the TV program “Empire” after prosecutors said the alleged attack was a hoax, and he told jurors earlier this week, “I’ve lost my livelihood.”
“For the life of me, I don’t understand why they didn’t plead this case out,” Hatchett said. “The things that came out in this case, I think are far more damaging, frankly, to him and his career … about the drug uses, what he was doing with these guys.”
Danny Deraney, founder and CEO of Deraney Public Relations who works with clients in crisis, believes moving forward with the appeal as Smollett and his legal team have said they will do is a mistake.
“I think [Smollett] is in the wrong position,” Deraney said. “If he remains quiet, and owns up to everything that has happened along the way, or just quits, and just remains quiet, I think that’s going to be the best thing for him.”
Despite the conviction, Deraney believes there is a path forward for Smollett’s career.
“As far as the court of public opinion, we’re more apt to believe people who own up to their mistakes,” he said. “I always advise people who are in an area of crisis to own up to your mistakes, and people are gonna believe you. I think, in [Smollett’s] case, he’s still perpetuating this belief that he didn’t make this up. It’s only going to cause more harm.”
The Smollett saga will also continue to play out in at least two other civil cases.
The city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Smollett in April 2019, seeking to recoup about $130,000 — the amount of money spent on overtime for CPD investigators who looked into Smollett’s initial attack claim.
That same month, the Osundairo brothers filed a lawsuit against former Smollett attorney Mark Geragos and current Smollett attorney Tina Glandian.
The brothers allege that the two attorneys made several defamatory statements. Both lawsuits are still pending in federal court in Chicago.
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WGN contributed to this report.