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Appeals court upholds actor Jussie Smollett's convictions and jail sentence

An appeals court upheld the disorderly conduct convictions Friday of actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself in 2019 and lying about it to Chicago police.

Smollett, who appeared in the TV show "Empire," challenged the role of a special prosecutor, jury selection, evidence and many other aspects of the case. But all were turned aside in a 2-1 opinion from the Illinois Appellate Court.

Smollett had reported to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men wearing ski masks. The search for the attackers soon turned into an investigation of Smollett himself, leading to his arrest on charges he had orchestrated the whole thing.

Authorities said he paid two men whom he knew from work on "Empire," which filmed in Chicago. Prosecutors said Smollett told the men what slurs to shout, and to yell that he was in "MAGA Country," a reference to Donald Trump's presidential campaign slogan.

A jury convicted Smollett in 2021 on five felony counts of disorderly conduct, a charge that can be filed in Illinois when a person lies to police.

He now will have to finish a 150-day stint in jail that was part of his sentence. Smollett spent just six days in jail while his appeal was pending.

A message seeking comment from his attorney, Nenye Uche, was not immediately returned. Lawyers for Smollett, who is Black and gay, have publicly claimed that he was the target of a racist justice system and people playing politics.

Appellate Justice Freddrenna Lyle would have thrown out the convictions. She said it was "fundamentally unfair" to appoint a special prosecutor and charge Smollett when he had already performed community service as part of a 2019 deal with Cook County prosecutors to close the case.

"It was common sense that Smollett was bargaining for a complete resolution of the matter, not simply a temporary one," Lyle said.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb was appointed to look into why the case was dropped. A grand jury subsequently restored charges against Smollett in 2020, and Webb concluded there were "substantial abuses of discretion" in the state's attorney office during the earlier round.

Smollett was not immune to a fresh round of charges, appellate Justices David Navarro and Mary Ellen Coghlan said in the majority opinion.

"The record does not contain any evidence that (prosecutors) agreed Smollett would not be further prosecuted in exchange for forfeiting his bond and performing community service," they said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press