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Jussie Smollett maintained his innocence during his sentencing hearing Thursday after a judge sentenced the former Empire actor to 150 days in jail for lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that he orchestrated himself.
Cook County Judge James Linn sentenced Smollett to 30 months of felony probation, including 150 days in the county jail. Linn denied a request to suspend Smollett’s sentence and ordered he be placed in custody immediately.
Smollett was also ordered to pay $120,106 in restitution to the city of Chicago.
Smollett loudly declared innocence after the sentence. “I am innocent. I could have said I am guilty a long time ago,” Smollett shouted as sheriff’s deputies led him out of the courtroom, capping an hours-long sentencing hearing.
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.
Before Linn handed down the sentence, Smollett’s defense 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.
Witnesses for both the state and Smollett testified at Smollett’s sentencing at the Cook County Courthouse. Chicago Police Superintendent 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 defense, asked Linn not to include prison time in his sentence for Smollett.
“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.
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.
Smollett declined to make a statement at the hearing. His decision came after special prosecutor Dan Webb asked Linn to include “an appropriate amount of prison time” when sentencing the actor for his conviction.
Before the sentencing began, Linn rejected a motion from the defense to overturn the jury’s verdict on legal grounds. Judges rarely grant such motions.
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 did not expect him to be sent to prison.
Thursday’s sentencing could be the final chapter in a criminal case, subject to appeal, that made international headlines when Smollett, who is Black and gay, reported to police 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, and 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.
Unlike the trial, Linn agreed to let photographers and a television camera inside court for the hearing — meaning the public got to see and hear Smollett speak in court for the first time.
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