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Jury in the case of Out actor Jussie Smollett reaches guilty verdict

Smollett was convicted on five felony charges that he faked a hate crime and was responsible for orchestrating it

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Jussie Smollett (Blade file Screenshot via YouTube)

CHICAGO – The jury in the case of actor Jussie Smollett has reached a guilty verdict in his trial on five felony charges that he faked a hate crime and was responsible for orchestrating it in January of 2019.

The jury deliberated for just over nine hours Wednesday and Thursday after the one week trial saw closing testimony and arguments Wednesday afternoon.

Smollett, 39, convicted on five counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony, is facing potential sentencing of up to three years in prison. According to a Chicago criminal defense attorney speaking on background, he contended that based on his experience with the legal system in the Chicago court system, that the actor will likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

Smollett testifying in his own defence told the court that he was physically attacked around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two men who hurled homophobic and racist slurs at him including the phrase ‘MAGA country,” a reference to former president Trump’s presidential campaign slogan.

The former “Empire” star was previously indicted by Cook County prosecutors in February 2019 after law enforcement authorities alleged he had conspired with two black friends to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary from the Fox series and wanted to generate publicity to boost his career. In March, the charges against him were dropped, with little explanation from prosecutors – though at the time, presiding Judge Michael Toomin suggested that he could be charged again.

The second indictment comes from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed to the case by Toomin after the initial charges were dropped. In a statement, Webb said that Smollett was charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct, connected to four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he claimed to be a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

After initially investigating the incident as a hate crime, Chicago detectives in their sworn affidavits and testimony noted that their investigation uncovered that Smollett paid brothers Olabinjo (“Ola”) and Abimbola (“Abel”) Osundairo, who are from Nigeria to stage the attack.

During their testimony last week, the Osundairo brothers told the court that the actor had recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago. They testified that Smollett who is openly gay and Black instructed them to put a noose around his neck, yell racist and homophobic slurs, and rough him up in view of a nearby surveillance camera.

Evidence presented by the prosecutors showed the two brothers in a local retail store purchasing the rope and other items used to stage the attack that Chicago police determined the actor paid for.

On Wednesday, special prosecutor Dan Webb told the jury that Smollett caused Chicago police to spend enormous resources investigating what they believe was a fake crime the Associated Press reported.

“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” Webb said.

Webb also cast doubts on Smollett’s integrity and credibility in his testimony telling jurors that the surveillance video from before the alleged attack and that later night contradicts key moments of Smollett’s account of the events.

Smollett’s defense attorney Nenye Uche disputed the Osundairo brothers testimony labeling them “sophisticated liars” who may have been motivated to attack the actor because of homophobia or because they wanted to be hired to work as his security. “These guys want to make money,” he told the court.

The special prosecutor during the trial also took aim at the actor’s refusal to turn over his cellphone to investigators or give them a DNA sample or access to his medical records to help with the investigation. Smollett testified he doesn’t trust Chicago police, and that he was concerned about his privacy.

“If he was a true victim of a crime he would not be withholding evidence,” Webb said.

Smollett’s defense attorney told the court that it was “nonsense” for police to ask the actor for his DNA when he was still considered the victim of a crime. He also noted Smollett later provided DNA to the FBI for a separate investigation into hate mail he had received at the studio for the ‘Empire’ shortly before the alleged attack. “He wasn’t hiding anything,” Uche said.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Smollett remained stoic as the verdict was announced. He was found guilty on five of six counts. The first five counts related to Smollett’s conduct on the day of the incident, while the sixth related to his conversation with a police detective.

Cook County Circuit Judge James Linn set a Jan. 27 hearing date for motions in the case prior to the actor’s sentencing.

The actor’s lawyers said after the today’s verdict that they are set to file an appeal but his legal problems also extend to the city of Chicago’s civil lawsuit against the “Empire” star demanding he repay the city $130,000 — the cost of the police investigation into the incident he reported as an alleged hate crime.

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Illinois

Illinois Governor & others mourn loss of Black Trans activist Elise Malary

“A tireless advocate for the LGBTQ community passionate about her work- her kindness & infectious smile will be missed”

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Elise Malary (Facebook/Chicago Therapy Collective)

SPRINGFIELD – In a tweet Saturday evening after Evanston Police announced that the body of a woman recovered from Lake Michigan was the missing Black Trans activist Elise Malary, Illinois Governor Jay Robert “J. B.” Pritzker expressed his condolences to her family and friends.

“The loss of Elise Malary is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to all her loved ones, as well as all of Illinois’ transgender community. You deserve to feel safe in your home, and I will continue to do everything in my power to make Illinois welcoming and inclusive for everyone,” the Governor said.

Malary had been missing since March 9 after she sent a text to her sister Fabiana around 9 a.m. – her last known contact. She was later reported missing on March 11.  Evanston police confirmed Saturday the body pulled from Lake Michigan on Thursday has been identified as the missing 31-year-old prominent LGBTQ+ activist.

A board member of the Chicago Therapy Collective, she worked tirelessly for the Chicago area LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.   Malary was also a member of the community advisory group for Equality Illinois, extensively fundraised for various community groups, and worked with the Illinois attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau.

The office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul released a statement:

“Today is a devastating day for the Office of the Attorney General. After hoping for several days that our friend and colleague Elise Malary would be safely reunited with her family, friends and loved ones, we have received confirmation of the unthinkable.

“Elise was a valued member of our Civil Rights Bureau who, as a tireless advocate for the LGBTQ community, was passionate about her work. Her kindness and infectious smile will be missed by those who worked with her.

“The Attorney General’s office has lost a member of our family, and as an office, we are heartbroken.

“I extend my deepest condolences to Elise’s family and friends. May Elise’s memory inspire all of us to live authentically and have humanity toward all.”

The state’s Lt. Governor, Juliana Stratton, also expressed her condolences saying; “I met Elise Malary at a meeting doing what she did so well: advocating for equitable access to healthcare and safe work spaces for LGBTQ+ Illinoisans. Her life mattered. And our brief encounter made me a better leader. Peace and love to all who are mourning. Rest well, Elise.”

Malary had a serious political impact especially for her fellow Trans community members. Lyricist, Writer, Humanist and President of Chicago LGBTQ Workers Center, Angelina Nordstrom expressed her grief writing;

“I’ll make this short. Our beloved friend, advocate, & sister Elise is no longer with us. My heart is shattered. While many of you have lost an advocate & a role model, I lost my best friend & my sister in community. Until we meet again, babygirl . . . RIP Elise Lydia.”

Brave Space Alliance, a Black and trans-run Chicago-based center has created a fund to help cover her funeral expenses.

In a statement, the alliance said: “Brave Space Alliance is devastated to learn that missing trans liberation leader, and beloved Chicago trans community member Elise Malary was confirmed dead today by the City of Evanston Police Department. Elise was a pillar of our community, a friend and accomplice to many, and a shining example of Black Trans Excellence.

“Elise’s work to advance the interests of trans people in Andersonville with the Chicago Therapy Collective has touched countless lives, and helped make Chicago a better place for trans people to live, work, and thrive.”

The funeral fund, the group said, “will be working with Elise’s family to ensure that she receives a memorial deserving of her dedication to Black Trans Liberation.”

The City of Evanston Police Department declined comment noting there is an investigation ongoing into Malary’s death.

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Illinois

Missing Black Trans activist’s body recovered from Lake Michigan

Malary has been missing since March 9 after she sent a text to her sister Fabiana around 9 a.m. – her last known contact

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LGBTQ+ activist Elise Malary (Screenshot via WBBM/CBS 2)

EVANSTON, Il. – Evanston police confirmed Saturday the body pulled from Lake Michigan on Thursday has been identified as the missing 31-year-old prominent LGBTQ+ activist Elise Malary.

WBBM/CBS 2 News Chicago reported that Thursday at around 4:30 p.m. Evanston Police and Fire Departments responded to Garden Park in the 500 block of Sheridan Square for a report of a woman found by the rocks.  

Malary, a Black Trans woman, has been missing since March 9 after she sent a text to her sister Fabiana around 9 a.m. – her last known contact. She was later reported missing on March 11.

“She’s never done anything like this before,” said Fabiana. “So that’s why it’s been just so alarming for us.” She told CBS2 that when maintenance workers went to Elise’s apartment, they found the front and back doors unlocked, but there were no signs of anything missing. 

Elise’s blue 2008 Honda Accord was missing but was found late Tuesday two blocks from her residence. Police were checking nearby cameras to see who drove Elise Malary’s car to the parking lot. Her family received word that her vehicle was left there.

Elise Malary is described as an “advocate” who has dedicated her life to “lifting up” the local LGBTQ+ community as a Black trans woman.

The Evanston Police Department is investigating.

Body pulled from Lake Michigan identified as missing Evanston activist Elise Malary:

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Illinois

Illinois LGBTQ+ community rallies after brutal hate crime

“It’s very strange for something like this to happen in Decatur now”

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Ethan Dickerson booking photo via CBS News affiliate WCIA 3

DECATUR, Il. – A rally by dozens of members of Decatur’s LGBTQ+ community took place Sunday in the wake of a brutal and vicious attack that sent an Out 60-year-old man to hospital last week.

Decatur Police announced last Thursday that they had taken 19-year-old Ethan Dickerson into custody charging him with attempted first-degree murder, home invasion, hate crime, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery. Dickerson broke into a 60-year-old neighbor’s house, tying him up and beating him with a pipe wrench because he is gay.

CBS News affiliate WCIA 3 reported that the victim was taken to an area hospital where he received multiple stitches. Dickerson appeared in court Friday morning for a bond hearing. His bond was set at $1 million.

The rally on Sunday was organized to show support for the victim. According to WCIA, event organizer August Francis said, “It’s very strange for something like this to happen in Decatur now.”

“It’s something that was a lot more prevalent and a lot more of an issue, obviously, back when, you know, this was more prevalent,” Francis added, “but now, this is the first we’ve in a very long time.”

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