Entertainment

Jussie Smollett sentenced to 150 days in jail, $120K fine for staging hate crime

Jussie Smollett was sentenced Thursday to 150 days in jail for lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that the former Empire actor orchestrated himself.

Actor told police he was attacked in 2019 for being Black and gay

Actor Jussie Smollett tears up after listening to his brother testify at his sentencing hearing Thursday, in Chicago. Smollett was sentenced to 150 days in county jail, and ordered to pay restitution for lying to police. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/The Associated Press)

A judge sentenced Jussie Smollett to 150 days in jail Thursday, branding the Black and gay actor a charlatan for staging a hate crime against himself while the nation struggled with wrenching issues of racial injustice.

Smollett responded by defiantly maintaining his innocence and suggesting he could be killed in jail before being led from the courtroom.

The sentence and Smollett's post-hearing outburst capped an hours-long hearing and more than three years of legal drama following Smollett's claim that he had been the target of a racist and homophobic attack.

Smollett didn't make a statement when offered the opportunity earlier in the afternoon, saying he was listening to his attorneys' advice. But after Cook County Judge James Linn issued his sentencing decision, Smollett removed the face mask he wore throughout the hearing to proclaim himself innocent.

He also loudly insisted that he was not suicidal, suggesting that "if anything happens" in jail, he did not take his own life.

"If I did this, then it means that I stuck my fist in the fears of Black Americans in this country for over 400 years and the fears of the LGBT community," Smollett said, standing up at the defence table as his lawyers and sheriff's deputies surrounded him. "Your Honour, I respect you and I respect the jury but I did not do this. And I am not suicidal. And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself. And you must all know that."

As deputies led him from the courtroom, Smollett shouted out again.

"I am innocent," he yelled, raising his fist. "I could have said I am guilty a long time ago."

Hypocrisy is 'astounding,' says judge

Linn excoriated Smollett prior to delivering his sentencing decision and pronounced himself astounded by Smollett's actions given the actor's multiracial family background and history working on behalf of social justice organizations.

"For you now to sit here, convicted of hoaxing, hate crimes ... the hypocrisy is just astounding," Linn said.

The case made international headlines when Smollett, who is Black and gay, reported to police in January 2019 that two men wearing ski masks beat him, and hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him on a dark Chicago street and ran off.

In December, Smollett was convicted in a trial that included the testimony of two brothers who told jurors Smollett paid them to carry out the attack, gave them money for the ski masks and rope, instructed them to fashion the rope into a noose. Prosecutors said he told them what racist and homophobic slurs to shout, and to yell that Smollett was in "MAGA Country," a reference to the campaign slogan of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Smollett, who knew the men from his work on the television show Empire that filmed in Chicago, testified that he did not recognize them and did not know they were the men attacking him.

Judge James Linn speaks during Thursday's hearing. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/The Associated Press)

Smollett faced up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — the charge filed for lying to police — of which he was convicted. He was acquitted on a sixth count.

But because Smollett does not have an extensive criminal history and the conviction is for a low-level nonviolent crime, experts had not expected him to be sent to prison.

Prior to the sentence being handed down, Smollett's defence attorney Nenye Uche asked Linn to limit the sentence to community service. He said Smollett "has lost nearly everything" in his career and finances and asked that Linn give him time to make restitution if that is part of the sentence.

Smollett's crime hurt 'actual victims,' said police

Witnesses for both the state and Smollett testified. Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, who was called by the state, submitted a statement that was read aloud by Samuel Mendenhall, a member of the special prosecution team.

In the statement, Brown, who became superintendent in April 2020 and wasn't with the city at the time of Smollett's police report, said Smollett's false report of a hate crime harmed "actual victims" of such crimes. Brown asked that the city be compensated for its costs, saying the cost of investigating his claim could have been spent elsewhere in the city.

Jussie Smollett's grandmother, testifying for the defence, asked Linn not to include prison time in his sentence for Smollett.

Molly Smollett, Jussie Smollett's grandmother, asked the judge not to send her grandson to prison. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/The Associated Press)

"I ask you, judge, not to send him to prison," Molly Smollett, 92, told the court. She later added, "If you do, send me along with him, OK?"

Smollett's brother, Joel Smollett, Jr., told the court that Smollett is "not a threat to the people of Illinois. In my humble opinion he is completely innocent."

Smollett's attorneys also read aloud letters from other supporters, including an organizer with Black Lives Matter, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson that asked Linn to consider the case's effect on Smollett's life and career and to avoid any confinement as part of his sentence.

WATCH | Police release video from Jussie Smollett investigation:

Police release video from Jussie Smollett investigation

3 years ago
Duration 0:56
Police body-camera footage purportedly shows Jussie Smollett, with a white rope wrapped around his neck, talking with police officers in his apartment in Chicago.

Other supporters spoke about worries that Smollett would be at risk in prison, specifically mentioning his race, sexual orientation and his family's Jewish heritage.

The sheer size and scope of the police investigation was a major part of the trial and is key in a $130,000 pending lawsuit that the city filed against Smollett to recover the cost of police overtime, so the judge also could order the actor to pay a hefty fine and restitution.

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