A grand jury in Chicago on Friday returned 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct and false report of offence against the actor, stemming from a “potential hate crime” that he now is said to have falsely claimed in late January.
The charges come on top of the state charges Smollett was hit with last month that could see the actor face up to three years in jail. The new counts are based on false statements Smollett allegedly made to Chicago PD officer and detectives investigating what seemed to be a racist- and homophobic-based attack on him on January 29.
“Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed,” states the 36-page indictment that officially came down Thursday in Cook County.
Each of the new charges carries a potential sentence of up to three years, though they are usually bundled together as one upon convictions. However, realistically, in cases likes this and with such Class 4 felonies, a plea bargain and probation is likely the outcome rather than a long-term jail sentence – unless Smollett decided he wanted to fight this at trial.
Empire broadcaster Fox said they had no comment on the matter at this time.
However, one of Smollett’s lawyers was very much his typically garrulous self in response.
“The fact of an indictment was not unexpected,” says Mark Geragos. “We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination.”
“What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie,” the CNN contributor added. “This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie’s privacy in tampering with his medical records,” the lawyer asserted. “Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”
Soon after Smollett’s arrest and initial bail hearing late last month, executive producers on the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong created drama announced on February 22 that the actor who plays the openly gay Jamal Lyon on the series would be written out of the final two episodes of Empire‘s current season.
“Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply,” EPs Strong, Daniels, showrunner Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer declared at the time in what was a shift from the solid support offered the actor just days beforehand.
“While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out,” the EPs added. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
Officially Empire has not been renewed for an expected sixth season yet, but the show is back for the rest of Season 5 on March 13, the day before Smollett is due to return to court. Those early backend episodes will feature Smollett, I hear.
Out on $100,00 bail, the Todd Pugh, Victor Henderson and cable news regular Geragos legally represented Smollett has always maintained that he is innocent.
However, prosecutors and police in the Windy City where Empire is filmed seem confident in their 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. The seemingly damning texts included preparing money to buy supplies, buying drugs, setting up meetings and ensuring that MAGA hats and chants were part of the assault.