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Hate Crime: Empire Star, Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty




Almost a year after he walked out of court seemingly a free man, the actor Jussie Smollett returned to court on Monday to again face charges that he had lied to the police about a hate crime attack that detectives said he had staged.

Mr. Smollett, 37, appeared in court two weeks after a special prosecutor, Dan K. Webb, announced that a grand jury had indicted Mr. Smollett on nearly identical charges that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped 11 months ago.

Mr. Smollett’s lawyer, Tina Glandian, entered a plea of not guilty as her client stood before the judge, hands clasped and with his black overcoat still on. The judge, James B. Linn of Cook County Circuit Court, allowed the actor to remain free, saying he was not a flight risk and rejecting prosecutors’ request for $10,000 bail. Mr. Smollett walked out without comment, his departure captured by a line of television cameras in the hallways outside the courtroom.

The case has spellbound the city ever since Mr. Smollett, who played a son of a hip-hop mogul on the Fox drama “Empire,” reported on Jan. 29, 2019, that he had been attacked by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, placed a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him. Mr. Smollett, who is gay, told the police that the attackers also yelled, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.

But the Police Department concluded that Mr. Smollett had paid two brothers to stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary on “Empire.”

Weeks after Mr. Smollett was indicted, the state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges against him. In exchange, Mr. Smollett performed 15 hours of community service and forfeited the $10,000 bond that had released him from jail. Prosecutors said at the time that it was an appropriate resolution because Mr. Smollett was not a violent criminal and had a long record of community service.

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But the outcome angered prominent officials in Chicago, including then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel; the city is now suing Mr. Smollett for more than $130,000 it said it had spent investigating the reported hate crime.

Mr. Smollett has maintained his innocence throughout, denying that he had hired the brothers.

A judge appointed Mr. Webb, a former federal prosecutor, as special prosecutor last year after concluding that the State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, had acted improperly when she handed the case to her deputy instead of someone outside her office. Ms. Foxx had removed herself from the case because of contact she had with representatives of Mr. Smollett when the police still considered him a victim.

Credit: New York Times

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