Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett, who was convicted of staging a racist and anti-gay attack against himself in January 2019, was sentenced this week to 30 months of felony probation, including 150 days at Cook County Jail.
Judge James Linn said Smollett would begin his time behind bars immediately, and he was also ordered to pay $120,106 in restitution and $25,000 in fines.
“I believe that you did damage to real hate crimes – to hate crime victims,” Lin told Smollett before announcing his sentence.
He acknowledged that he could not say “for sure how much damage there was,” but hopes that other victims would not be dissuaded from coming forward and that authorities would not be more skeptical of victims who are willing to report such crimes.
After the sentence was announced, Smollett lowered his face mask and stated he was innocent.
Convicted hate crime hoaxer Jussie Smollett puts up the black power fist and yells about being innocent as he is walked out of court after being sentenced to jail time. Outside, his family said he’s a victim & is innocent. #HateHoax pic.twitter.com/n3M6Bc1R39
— Andy Ngô 🏳️🌈 (@MrAndyNgo) March 11, 2022
“Your honor, I respect you and I respect the jury, but I did not do this,” he told the judge, before turning to the court. “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 sheriff’s deputies escorted Smollett out of the courtroom, he yelled again that he was innocent and raised a fist in the air.
Smollett’s sentencing comes more than three years after the actor told Chicago police that two men yelling racist and anti-gay slurs attacked him, poured a chemical on him, and tied a rope around his neck. The allegations and the subsequent unraveling of Smollett’s story attracted nonstop coverage in the press as the city tried to recoup costs associated with the investigation, and officials struggled with whether to prosecute the actor.
Police initially arrested two brothers who were background actors on the Fox drama series but released them after investigators said new evidence had surfaced during their questioning. Authorities then accused Smollett of paying the men $3,500 to stage the attack in order to generate sympathetic media coverage.
Weeks after indicting Smollett, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dismissed the case in exchange for him forfeiting his $10,000 bond and agreeing to two days of community service. In February 2020, special prosecutor Dan Webb unveiled a new grand jury indictment against the actor, finding “further prosecution of Mr. Smollett is in the interests of justice.”
In December, Smollett was found guilty on five of the six felony counts of disorderly conduct for making a false report to police. Each count has a maximum of three years in prison, though legal experts have said it’s rare that defendants convicted of these charges, which are class 4 felonies, get prison time.
Smollett’s attorneys recently filed paperwork asking that the court either grant him a new trial or vacate his conviction. In the 83-page document, they argued that a multitude of legal errors with the process allowed the second prosecution to move forward and that Smollett’s constitutional rights were violated at trial because the court did not allow them to ask potential jurors certain questions during jury selection.
“We should have never been here to begin with,” Tina Glandian, one of the actor’s attorneys, told the court. “We believe it was legal error to proceed.”
Linn denied the defense’s request to throw out his conviction or grant a new trial, saying that he believed Smollett received a fair trial and that he stood by his and the other judges’ previous rulings regarding the pretrial issues raised by the defense. He added he believed the jury reached a correct verdict based on overwhelming evidence.
Smollett’s legal team say they will appeal the verdict.
— Sam Charles (@samjcharles) March 11, 2022
Webb told the court that he believed Smollett lied under oath while testifying about the incident at trial and that the actor still has not accepted responsibility for the crime. For those reasons, his team was recommending prison time for Smollett. However, he declined to suggest a specific length of a prison sentence, saying he trusted the judge’s discretion.
Smollett’s legal team immediately asked Linn to stay the sentence, but the request was refused. According to court records obtained by WGN-TV, he will spend his time in jail in protective custody.
“The damage you’ve done to yourself is way beyond anything else that can happen to you from me or any other judge that would be sentencing you,” Linn said. “Your very name has become an adverb for lying, and I cannot imagine what could be worse than that. ‘Pulling a Jussie.’ That’s awful.”