Jury reaches verdict in trial of actor Jussie Smollett

Jury reaches verdict in trial of actor Jussie Smollett. The jury in Jussie Smollett’s trial reached a verdict Thursday afternoon on charges that the former “Empire” actor orchestrated a fake attack on himself, then lied to Chicago police about it, courthouse staff said. It was expected to be read aloud in court later Thursday.

The jury deliberated just over nine hours Wednesday and Thursday after a roughly one-week trial in which two brothers testified that Smollett recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago in January 2019. They said Smollett orchestrated the hoax, telling them to put a noose around his neck and rough him up in view of a surveillance camera, and that he said he wanted video of the hoax made public via social media.

Smollett testified that he was the victim of a real hate crime, telling jurors “there was no hoax.” He called the brothers “liars” and said the $3,500 check he wrote them was for meal and workout plans. His attorneys argued that the brothers attacked the actor — who is gay and Black — because they are homophobic and didn’t like “who he was.” They also alleged the brothers made up the story about the attack being staged to get money from Smollett, and that they said they wouldn’t testify against him if Smollett paid them each $1 million.

In closing arguments on Wednesday, a prosecutor told jurors there was “overwhelming evidence” that Smollett staged the attack, then lied to police about it for publicity. His defense attorney said prosecutors’ case was based on lies.

In his closing argument 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.

“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.

He also accused Smollett of lying to jurors, saying surveillance video from before the alleged attack and that night contradicts key moments of Smollett’s testimony.

Defense attorney Nenye Uche called the brothers “sophisticated liars” who may have been motivated to attack Smollett because of homophobia or because they wanted to be hired to work as his security.

“These guys want to make money,” he said.

Webb questioned why Smollett didn’t turn over his cellphone to police 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.

Uche called it “nonsense” for Chicago police to ask Smollett for his DNA when he was still considered the victim of a crime. He noted Smollett later provided DNA to the FBI for a separate investigation into hate mail he had received at the “Empire” studio shortly before the alleged attack.

“He wasn’t hiding anything,” Uche said.

The disorderly conduct charge is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted, he would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

Vaccine makers are racing to update their COVID-19 shots so they’re a better match against the Omicron variant, the newest coronavirus threat. It’s not yet clear that a change will be needed, but they’re putting in the work — just in case.

Experts doubt current shots will become useless, but they say it’s critical to see how fast companies could produce a reformulated dose and prove it works. Even if existing vaccines hold their own with Omicron, scientists are certain this new variant won’t be the last.

Omicron “is pulling the fire alarm. Whether it turns out to be a false alarm, it would be really good to know if we can actually do this — get a new vaccine rolled out and be ready,” said E. John Wherry, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

It’s too soon to know how vaccines will hold up against Omicron. The first hints this week were mixed: Preliminary lab tests suggest two Pfizer doses may not prevent an Omicron infection but they could protect against severe illness. And a booster shot may rev up immunity enough to do both.

Get our free Coronavirus Today newsletter

Sign up for the latest news, best stories and what they mean for you, plus answers to your questions.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.

Better answers are expected in the coming weeks, and regulators in the U.S. and other countries are keeping a close watch. The World Health Organization has appointed an independent scientific panel to advise on whether the shots should be reformulated because of Omicron or any other variant.

But authorities haven’t laid out what would trigger such a drastic step. Would it be warranted if COVID-19 vaccines stop preventing serious illnesses? What about if a new variant merely spreads faster?

“This is not trivial,” Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s chief executive, said shortly before Omicron’s discovery. A company could apply to market a new formula, “but what happens if another company makes another proposal with another variant? We don’t have an agreed strategy.”

It’s a tough decision — and the virus moves faster than science. Just this fall the U.S. government’s vaccine advisers wondered why boosters weren’t retooled to target the highly transmissible Delta variant — only to have the next scary variant, Omicron, be neither a Delta descendant nor a very close cousin.

If vaccines do need tweaking, there’s still another question: Should there be a separate Omicron booster or a combination shot? And if it’s a combo, should it target the original strain along with Omicron, or the currently dominant Delta variant plus Omicron?

COVID-19 vaccines work by triggering production of antibodies that recognize and attack the spike protein that coats the coronavirus, and many are made with new technology flexible enough for easy updating.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are fastest to tweak. They contain genetic instructions that tell the body to make harmless copies of the coronavirus’ spike protein, and the messenger RNA that holds those instructions can be swapped to match new variants.

Pfizer said it expects to have an Omicron-specific candidate ready for the Food and Drug Administration to consider in March. Some initial batches should be ready to ship around the same time, said chief scientific officer Dr. Mikael Dolsten.

Moderna is predicting it will take 60 to 90 days to have an Omicron-specific candidate ready for testing.

Other manufacturers that make COVID-19 vaccines using different technology, including Johnson & Johnson, are also pursuing possible updates.

Pfizer and Moderna already have created experimental doses to match Delta and another variant named Beta. Those shots weren’t needed, but their development offered valuable practice.

So far, the original vaccines have offered at least some protection against variants. Even if immunity against Omicron isn’t as good, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said he hopes the big antibody jump triggered by booster doses will compensate.

Pfizer’s preliminary lab testing, released Wednesday, hinted that might be the case, but antibodies aren’t the only layer of defense. Vaccines also spur T cells that can prevent serious illness if someone does get infected, and Pfizer’s first tests showed, as expected, that those don’t seem to be affected by Omicron.

Also, memory cells that can create new and somewhat different antibodies are formed with each dose.

“You’re really training your immune system not just to deal better with existing variants, but it actually prepares a broader repertoire to deal with new variants,” Dolsten said.

How aggressive a variant is also plays a role in deciding whether to reformulate the vaccine. Omicron appears to spread easily, but early reports from South African scientists hint that it might cause milder infections than previous variants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.