CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Jussie Smollett’s defense lawyers said the actor is “100% innocent” and plan to appeal his conviction for lying to the police over a hate crime report, blaming the verdict on miscommunication and preconceived notions.
“There’s a misapprehension and a misconception that people have to prove their innocence rather than to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said defense attorney Heather Widell on “Morning in America.” “And so I think that there was a disadvantage from the start, particularly given the fact that Mr. Smollett was tried and convicted in the media, and in the court of public opinion, long before this trial ever started.”
Smollett was convicted on charges that he lied to Chicago police when the former “Empire” actor and R&B singer reported being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack nearly three years ago.
The jury convicted the 39-year-old on five counts of disorderly conduct — for each separate time he was charged with lying to police in the days after the alleged attack. He was acquitted on a sixth count, of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
Smollett, who is Black and gay, maintained throughout the 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.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of a real hate crime, telling jurors, “There was no hoax.”
Former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson weighed in on the verdict on “Morning in America,” saying multiple factors in the attack concerned him. Johnson said the attack took place on one of the coldest nights of the year during a polar vortex. Also concerning was the way Smollett handled the days after the alleged attack.
“When I initially saw the video of him in his apartment with the noose around his neck, I was concerned, because I don’t think there are many black people in America that would have a noose around their neck, and wouldn’t immediately take it off,” said Johnson. “And then the way he was so nonchalant, handling, it gave me pause for concern, you know, but I would not let the police department make him an offender until the evidence just got to be so overwhelming.”
Johnson said a Subway sandwich was a damaging piece of evidence.
“He went to a Subway sandwich shop at like two in the morning to get a sandwich. OK, that’s fine. He comes back gets attacked in a hate crime, supposed hate crime. And during all this scuffle, they poured bleach on him and all of this,” said Johnson. “When he got up and went into his apartment building, he still had this Subway sandwich. Well, that doesn’t happen. When people get attacked like that whatever belongings they have out there, they usually leave it until the police can go back with them because they’re afraid, This guy had the sandwich in his hand and never been touched.”
You can watch the full interview with Johnson in the player below.
Nenye Uche, a lawyer for Smollett, continuously backed his client’s innocence in an interview with “Morning in America” Friday morning.
“He’s a human being. He’s disappointed. Nobody wants to be found guilty of anything within the criminal justice system. He’s disappointed,” said Uche. “But he’s also very confident in the judicial system. He’s confident that he’ll be vindicated on appeal. And that’s why we have appellate courts, sometimes you don’t win, but you will on appeal.”
A prosecutor said the 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.
“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.
After the verdict was read, Uche told reporters Smollett was disappointed and that he is “100% innocent.” He said Smollett’s team is confident, “He’s going to be cleared of all, all accusations on all charges.”
The report made headlines around the world and prompted a massive manhunt in Chicago, with roughly two dozen police joining the investigation. It also drew criticism from former President Donald Trump, who called the police department’s handling of the case “an absolute embarrassment to our country.”
“Jussie was very unfortunate. His case became almost like political football,” Uche said. “And it took on a very political turn. And when that happens, it’s really hard to get a fair trial.”
You can watch the full interview with Nenye Uche and Heather Widell in the player above.