Nearly a month and a half after Jussie Smollett claimed he was brutally assaulted in the streets of Chicago, the Empire actor appeared in court today to enter a plea to multiple charges of having given a false account to the police.
With lawyers and family in the Cook County courthouse, Smollett’s attorney , Tina Glandian expectedly plead “not guilty” for the subdued actor to the 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct. First charged and arrested on February 21 over the seemingly violent January 29 incident that Chicago PD initially considered a “potential hate crime,” Smollett was indicted on the more than a dozen new charges on March 8.
Smollett will next be due in court on April 17.
Currently out on $100,000 bail, the actor who plays the openly gay Jamal Lyon on the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong created Fox series could face more than three years behind bars and a $25,000 fine on each count of misrepresentation to cops and detectives. Despite a flood of evidence that prosecutors presented in that late February hearing, Smollett has always insisted on his innocence and that he did not stage the attack.
Earlier this morning, trial Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to the case and to conduct this morning’s arraignment. At today’s hearing, Judge Watkins gave a slight expansion to Smollett’s travel restrictions. The actor is now allowed to freely travel to L.A. and to NYC to consult with his lawyers on the case.
After Smollett was arrested on February 21, Chicago prosecutors read out in court a lengthy series of text messages between Smollett and brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo that painted a picture of a clearly pre-planned attack. Far from the racist and homophobic assault Smollett first describes in late January, the texts detailed preparing money to buy supplies, buying drugs, setting up meetings and ensuring that MAGA hats and chants were part of the assault.
In a searing live press conference on that same day, CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said it was “shameful’ what Smollett allegedly try to pull off and accused him of perpetuating a “hoax.” The Windy City’s top cop also claimed that UTA-repped Smollett orchestrated the apparent fake attack because he was dissatified with his more than $120,00 per episode paycheck on Empire. That is not a point that prosecutors seem to have pursued in their case and one that various sources at Fox and others close to Smollett have scoffed at.
Today’s hearing also comes mere hours after the midseason return of Empire last night after an absence of several months
Though, Smollett has been written out of the final two episodes of the present fifth season, the actor was front and center in the long since filmed “My Fault Is Past” episode on Wednesday.
It was a prominence that sometimes felt a bit too unavoidably close to reality as he delivered lines like “We aint going to beat nobody’s ass.” Amid the usual Lyon family intrigue that the episode unveiled, at one point Smollett’s Jamal actually said “I don’t know if y’all been reading the blogs and all the foolishness, but it’s kinda been a tough week.”
Speaking of the week, today was actually Smollett’s second appearance in court this week.
The actor unexpectedly showed up at a procedural hearing on March 12 for his California-based primary defense lawyer Mark Geragos to enter the necessary paperwork to represent Smollett in the state of Illinois. Cable news talking head Geragos, who called the recent indictments “prosecutorial overkill,” was not in court today, but his associate Glandian did the necessary heavy lifting.
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