Less than an hour after Jussie Smollett was indicted on multiple felony charges stemming from claims of a racist and homophobic assault last month, the Empire actor’s attorneys have jumped to his defense as producers for the show considering a suspension.
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson told Deadline on Thursday.
“Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense,” the Chicago-based lawyers added, with no mention of Mark Geragos as a newly minted member of the defense team.
Earlier, Smollett, the openly gay actor who plays openly gay Jamal Lyon on the Fox series, was charged with disorderly conduct and filing a false police report related to the widely reported and outrage-provoking January 29 attack. If found guilty, Smollett could face three years or more behind bars.
A Chicago PD spokesman said Wednesday that they intend to be in “contact with [Smollett’s] legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest.” It is more than likely that the actor will appear in a bond court in the next 24 hours to get this new stage of the sad saga started.
With Empire currently in production in the Windy City finishing up its fifth season, there has been no formal word from Fox about the actor’s status on the show now that charges have been laid against Smollett by the Cook County state’s attorney office.
However, there are talks underway contemplating suspending the actor from the show or putting him on some form of leave ASAP, I hear.
Fox this morning put out a statement of noticeably more measured support for Smollett, saying he is not being written off the show. But the fact is just yesterday I learned Smollett’s scenes are being cut or trimmed in the remaining episodes of Empire being filmed right now.
This hard turn of events the past few days follows the police investigation turning its attention to Smollett’s role in possibly staging the early-morning assault. While in talks with the CPD, the actor and his lawyers also were delaying requests from authorities to come in for another face-to-face interview as more and more questions about the supposed attack were being raised.
The incident originally was described by Smollett as an attack that left him beaten, drenched in bleach and with a rope slung around his neck. Previously identified by cops as the individuals in the photos of “persons of interest” in the case, brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo are said to be “fully” cooperating with authorities now.
The siblings were seen Wednesday entering the criminal courtroom in downtown Chicago, where a recently convened grand jury is sitting. At the same time, subpoenas were issued for police and other law enforcement agencies to go through Smollett’s phone, financial and other records and files.
Politics also might come to play a role in all this.
Speaking on Good Morning America on February 14 in his first interview since the January 29 incident, Smollett said he thought the attack occurred because of his high profile-criticism of Donald Trump. “I come really, really hard against 45,” the actor told GMA co-host Robin Roberts. “I come really, really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue,” Smollett added of the president, who called the assault on him “horrible” a couple of days after it occurred.
Now, as reports of the supposed assailants ranting about “MAGA country” were initially weaved into the narrative, that POTUS spotlight might take on a whole new shine.