Former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett was sentenced to 150 days in jail, 30 months felony probation and to pay restitution to the city of Chicago, and a fine of $25,000 on Thursday, after he was found guilty last December on charges that he staged a hate-crime attack against himself in 2019. Judge James B. Linn stated that the evidence against Smollett was “overwhelming” and that the jury’s verdict in his case was “correct.”
Smollett, who had waived his right to comment before the verdict, announced he was “not suicidal” and “innocent” after the sentencing. He repeatedly stated that he is “not suicidal,” insisting that if anything happens to him in jail, that he would never take his own life.
Linn rejected the defense’s request for a new trial after arguments were made by his lawyers at the lengthy sentencing hearing. Before rendering his verdict, Smollett’s defense team read letters of support for the star from Black Lives Matter, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson, and Rev. Jesse Jackson on behalf of the Rainbow/Push Coalition. They all stood up for his character and urged the judge not to give Smollett jail time. The actor’s older brother also spoke to the judge in the hearing, and so did his 92-year-old grandmother. Another lawyer for the former “Empire” star read a letter from actress and family friend Alfre Woodard and still another from NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson.
“There is nothing I can do here that can come close to the damage you’ve done to your own life,” Linn told Smollett before issuing his verdict, adding he took the actor-singer’s character into account in making his decision, as well as the glowing endorsements from Jesse Jackson and Derrick Johnson.
“I know Jussie Smollett grew up to be sensitive to issues of racial justice. He’s been doing this all this life. He’s involved in the community… and for you to sit here convicted of hoaxing racial hate crimes and homophobic hate crimes, the hypocrisy is just astounding. I don’t know where to begin,” he said.
Linn chalked up Smollett’s motive not to money, but that he wanted to become more famous. “You craved the attention so much, but why would you betray the social justice you love so much?… I believe you did real damage to victims of real hate crimes.” Linn also mentioned Smollett’s “extreme” level of premeditation, including writing a script for the men he paid to attack him and running through rehearsals with them. The judge put special emphasis on his words when he said, “You put the noose on your own neck,” before calling Smollett, “arrogant, selfish, and narcissistic… Your very name has become an adverb for lying.” He also called Smollett’s testimony during his trial “pure perjury.”
Before the sentencing, the defense argued that there was no evidence against Smollett other than the testimony of brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who both testified they helped him stage the attack, and whom she alleged were pressured into that admission. The prosecution insisted that there was a “plethora” of evidence that Smollett “devised and carried out a fake hate crime.”
In January 2019, the actor told Chicago police he was assaulted late at night by two men yelling racist and homophobic slurs, who wore pro-Trump apparel and left him with a noose around his neck. Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx initially dismissed charges against Smollett, but a re-opened investigation purportedly showed that Smollett staged the attack with the help of the Osundairos, who appeared as extras on “Empire” and claimed that Smollett paid them $3,500 for their involvement.
Smollett was charged with six counts of disorderly conduct, and in December, was convicted on five of those counts. Those charges carried a maximum sentence of three years in prison — Disorderly Conduct for filing a false police report is a Class 4 felony.
Throughout his trial, Smollett maintained his innocence, testifying that the incident was “no hoax,” according to The Associated Press, and that the payment to Abimbola Osundairo was for his services as a trainer. Smollett also said that he and Abimbola Osundairo had multiple sexual encounters, which contradicted Abimbola’s own testimony that the two had no prior sexual relationship.
The saga cost Smollett his role on “Empire” as his character, Jamal Lyon, was written off during the show’s sixth and final season.