Jussie Smollett on Thursday was sentenced to 150 days in jail after a jury in December found him guilty on five of six counts of felony disorderly conduct for staging a hate crime against himself and then lying to police about the hoax.
After his sentence was handed down, Smollett spoke sharply to Cook County Judge James Linn and said, "I am not suicidal, and I am innocent." He added that "I did not do this" and that "if anything happens" to him while in jail that he didn't do it to himself.
The sentence also included 30 months probation, $120,000 of restitution payments, and a $25,000 fine.
'Your very name has become an adverb for lying'
In an address before issuing his sentence, Linn eviscerated Smollett, calling him a "charlatan" and telling him "your hypocrisy is astounding" and "you wanted to make yourself more famous" through the elaborate, "premeditated" caper and then "you threw a national pity party for yourself." But the worst part, the judge said, was that Smollett lied to authorities about it all.
"Your very name has become an adverb for lying," Linn said.
The former "Empire" star — who is black and gay — made national headlines for claiming a pair of supporters of then-President Donald Trump physically attacked him near his apartment in Chicago in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019.
He claimed the two men wearing ski masks confronted him as he was leaving a Subway restaurant around 2 a.m. in below freezing conditions and yelled "aren't you that f***ot 'Empire' n*****?" before beating him up, putting a rope around his neck, pouring bleach on him, and hollering, "This is MAGA country!" — a reference to Trump's red "Make America Great Again" hats.
But once a police investigation began, Smollett's story began to crumble.
What else happened at the sentencing hearing?
Smollett's defense pushed for a new trial, but the mountain of evidence against their client was too high, and Linn — who presided over Smollett's trial late last year in which he was convicted — denied the new trial request.
Prior to sentencing, the prosecution read a victim impact statement from the city of Chicago that blasted Smollett for making it less likely that actual victims of hate crimes will come forward to law enforcement. The city also requested just over $130,000 in restitution for the resources they said Smollett wasted.
Character witnesses for Smollett implored a sentence without prison time, including his brother who declared to the courtroom that the prosecution had no evidence against Smollett. The defense also detailed numerous letters — including ones from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the president of the NAACP, and a Black Lives Matter representative — that pleaded for mercy in sentencing.
The 39-year-old faced a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison. Legal experts had said the sentencing judge would consider Smollett's otherwise clean criminal record and predicted he'd be sentenced to probation with required community service.
What else happened during the investigation and trial?
Chicago police caught the two suspects in the crime, Nigerian-born brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo — aspiring actors whom Smollett knew from the Chicago set of "Empire" and from the gym. The brothers told police Smollett paid them to stage the attack in an effort to boost his career. In fact, then-Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett used a check to pay the brothers $3,500 to pull off the staged attack.
Johnson added that the hoax "pissed everybody off."
Detectives said surveillance video and in-car taxi videos corroborated the Osundairo brothers' claims, as did telephone logs, ride-share records, and credit card records, according to a case summary document prosecutors released.
During Smollett's trial, prosecutors alleged the actor even arranged a "dry run" of the hoax with his co-conspirators days prior to it taking place — and that the practice session was captured on surveillance video.
The Osundairo brothers testified against Smollett in the trial, each taking the witness stand to repeat their claims that Smollett told them to place a noose around his neck and shout racial and homophobic slurs while roughing him up in view of a street camera.
Smollett testified in his own defense and maintained “there was no hoax" and that the brothers are “liars” who attacked him over homophobia and tried to extort money from him after the fact.
Lead prosecutor Dan Webb wasn't buying it, saying Smollett's lies cost the Chicago Police Department resources and caused racial division.
“Besides being against the law, it’s just plain wrong for Mr. Smollett, a successful black actor, to outright denigrate something as serious, as heinous, as a real hate crime. To denigrate it and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such horrible historical significance in our country," Webb said according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
After Smollett's December conviction, Webb said in his full report regarding State's Attorney Kim Foxx's handling of the case that her office committed several procedural irregularities and ethical missteps — including that the decision to allow Smollett to enter into an "alternative prosecution" agreement constituted an "abuse of prosecutorial discretion."
In addition, former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, said Smollett "spit in the face of real victims of bigotry" by "lying about being attacked because of his race" and "should be sentenced to the fullest extent of the law to serve as an example and to send a very strong message to anyone who thinks about pulling a hoax like this in the future."
The left, however, had plenty to say immediately after Smollett claimed he was attacked. Vice President Kamala Harris — who at the time was a U.S. senator from California and a week into her presidential campaign — called it "an attempted modern day lynching. No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate."
Image source: Twitter
Harris' tweet was still active Thursday evening.
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