After being found guilty last year of filing a fraudulent police report claiming he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack, the actor was sentenced to five months in prison.
A Chicago court on Thursday sentenced Jussie Smollett to five months in prison for fraudulently claiming to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in 2019.
Judge James B. Linn excoriated Mr. Smollett from the bench during a five-hour hearing, saying that despite his and his family’s excellent previous social justice work, he had an arrogant and selfish side and had planned the prank because he “craved the spotlight”. .”
The judge said in his scathing speech that Mr Smollett’s name had become synonymous with a lie, that he had tried to organize a ‘national pity day’ for himself and that Mr Smollett’s actions had harmed to other victims of hate crimes at a critical moment in America’s history of racism.
The judge said, “You peeled the scabs off some healing wounds and tore them open. “And for a reason: you wanted to increase your notoriety.”
Mr Smollett refused to address the court before his sentencing. “I didn’t do that, and I’m not suicidal,” the actor asserted defiantly after Judge Linn handed down his sentence, adding that “if anything happens to me when I walk in there , I don’t do it myself”. Mr Smollett raised his right fist as he was taken into custody to begin his prison sentence. His lawyers immediately said they intended to appeal.
The defense and prosecution presented starkly contrasting perspectives on Mr. Smollett’s crime during the hearing. Prosecutors described it as a deliberate ploy to mislead law enforcement and the general public at a time when hate crimes were on the rise. Lawyers for Mr Smollett framed the case as an insignificant low-level criminal who had come under excessive scrutiny from prosecutors.
Mr Smollett’s lawyer, Nenye Uche, asked: ‘Why are we jumping up and down and behaving like this is a murder case?’ “This is not the case.”
Special prosecutor handling the case, Daniel K. Webb, claimed in court that Mr. Smollett made matters worse by declaring his innocence to the jury.
In the end, the judge sided with the prosecution.
Mr Smollett was found guilty of criminal disorderly conduct, which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, at his trial. The judge agreed to a shorter sentence, which will be served in a local jail, as well as a probationary period of more than two years and a $25,000 fine. He was also forced to pay over $120,000 in reparations for the costs of the police investigation into his case in Chicago.
Prior to sentencing, such figures as the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, wrote letters to the judge begging him to save them from prison. Supporters said Mr Smollett had no previous offenses on his record and suffered reputational damage as police accused him of staging a fake assault.
Mr. Webb insisted that Mr. Smollett be jailed indefinitely on Thursday, saying his actions were serious, that he had lied to the jury and that he had shown no remorse.
Mr Webb told the judge: ‘What Smollett has done in this case is he has denigrated, humiliated and belittled people who are real victims of hate crimes.’
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The sentencing caps more than three years of twists and turns in a case that has polarized politics and sparked debate among Chicago leaders. Mr Smollett was portrayed as a victim for days, as someone who had been beaten and subjected to racial and homophobic abuse. Even after authorities questioned his version of events, it emerged Mr Smollett would escape serious criminal charges. In March 2019, prosecutors dropped the charges against him. However, Mr Smollett was charged again in 2020 after Mr Webb reopened the investigation into what happened on January 29, 2019.
The case received national attention, and in Chicago the decision to drop the charges caused a schism between prosecutors and the police department; the case has also become a focal point of criticism against Kim Foxx, the county’s chief prosecutor, during her recent re-election campaign.
The prosecution told the jury that Mr. Smollett ordered two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, to attack him near his Chicago residence, where they tied a rope around his neck like a noose and said : “This is the land of MAGA”.
According to the Osundairos, Mr Smollett took the Osundairos to a ‘dry run’ of the incident and ordered one of them to ‘pretend to beat him’.
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Mr Smollett, 39, who rose to prominence in 2019 as Jussie Smollett in the musical drama ‘Empire’, maintained his innocence throughout seven hours of testimony over two days, telling the jury he had been the victim of a true hate crime. His lawyers claimed in court that the Osundairo siblings enjoyed their closeness to fame and had tried to terrify Mr Smollett into hiring them as a security guard.
The lawyers also referred to Olabinjo Osundairo’s homophobic comments, suggesting that the attack was motivated by prejudice against Mr Smollett, who is homosexual. (On testimony, Mr. Osundairo repeatedly denied being homophobic.)
The prosecution used CCTV of the brothers meeting for an ’empty run’, as well as Instagram messages from Mr Smollett to Abimbola Osundairo shortly before the attack, in which the actor offered updates on the timetable for his trip back to Chicago.
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The defense argued Mr Smollett did not plan the attack, saying communications and video evidence showed he had a conversation with Abimbola Osundairo because he was giving the actor fitness instructions.
Mr Smollett was found guilty of five of six counts of criminal disorderly conduct related to his police complaint by a 12-person jury in December.
Judge Linn announced his decision after denying the defense’s request to quash the conviction or a new trial for the actor.
Much of the hearing was devoted to defense efforts to argue that Mr Smollett deserved a new trial and should not be jailed. Several members of his family, including his older brother, Joel Smollett Jr., and supporters, including Rich Daniels, a former musical director of “Empire”, were in the courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. Mr. Daniels testified about Mr. Smollett’s character, citing examples of his “kind and humble spirit”, as recounted by admirers.
As Jussie Smollett wiped tears from her eyes, Joel Smollett Jr. said, “Incarceration of any kind would send the wrong message, especially at a time when we as a nation have expressed, in a bipartisan plurality, the desire to see meaningful criminal justice. reform.”