CHICAGO—Actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced to serve 150 days in jail as the first stage of his 30 months of felony probation for reporting a false hate crime to police in 2019, concluding a case that at first won him sympathy but ended up costing him his starring role in the hit show “Empire” when the hoax unraveled.
Mr. Smollett, 39 years old, was also ordered to pay restitution of $120,000 to the city of Chicago and a $25,000 fine. He was ordered to begin his sentence immediately.
Mr. Smollett was found guilty in December on five of six counts of disorderly conduct for filing false police reports, the lowest level of felony in Illinois.
After sitting quietly through the hourslong proceedings, Mr. Smollett took off his mask after the judge rendered the sentence and said, “I am not suicidal and I am innocent,” several times. “If anything happens to me in there, I did not do it to myself.”
While Mr. Smollett spoke, several family members raised their fists in the air in an apparent gesture of solidarity. He reiterated his innocence in a final yell to the courtroom of reporters and family members as he was escorted through the exit by deputies.
Cook County Judge James Linn spoke for nearly an hour before rendering his sentence, citing aggravating factors including that Mr. Smollett’s crime was premeditated, damaged the city and harmed victims of actual hate crimes. Mr. Smollett committed perjury for “hour upon hour upon hour,” on the stand, said Judge Linn.
“I know that there is nothing that I will do here today that will come close to the damage that you have already done to your own life,” the judge said, saying Mr. Smollett had good qualities but was also narcissistic. “For you now to sit here convicted of hoaxing a hate crime. The hypocrisy is just astounding.”
Judge Linn rejected a defense motion to throw out the conviction or order a new trial before giving his sentence. Lead defense attorney Nenye Uche said before sentencing that he was shocked the prosecution was seeking jail time saying “that’s not justice that’s retribution.”
The defense has vowed to appeal the verdict.
Mr. Smollett received an outpouring of support when the crime was first reported, but a wave of skepticism emerged after details of the case came out.
He claimed that he had been attacked by two men at 2 a.m. Jan. 29, 2019, as he returned home from picking up a sandwich. He said the attackers had yelled racist, antigay and pro-Trump slogans, splashed him with bleach and put a rope around his neck.
Two brothers, who were initially considered suspects, became key government witnesses after evidence showed they knew Mr. Smollett.
Mr. Smollett was initially charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct, but Cook County Prosecutor
dismissed those charges after the actor agreed to surrender his $10,000 bond and served two days of community service.
a former U.S. attorney and special counsel in the Iran-Contra affair, was named a special prosecutor by Cook County Judge Michael P. Toomin to examine Ms. Foxx’s handling of the case and decide whether charges should be reinstated.
Mr. Webb found some irregularities in her handling of the case but no criminal wrongdoing. He also determined that Mr. Smollett should face further prosecution, and a grand jury in February 2020 indicted the actor on six counts of disorderly conduct for falsely reporting a hate crime.
At trial, prosecutors alleged that Mr. Smollett was unhappy with his pay and decided to stage the hate crime to raise his profile.
The two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundario, said Mr. Smollett had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack in front of a city surveillance camera that turned out to be pointed in the wrong direction.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Mr. Smollett testified that in early 2019 he had put on some weight and needed to get in shape for a coming music video, so he hired Abimbola Osundairo, an extra on “Empire” and friend, to help him.
A check for $3,500 was entered into evidence, showing on the memo line “five week nutrition/workout program.”
Mr. Smollett said that the fee included $600 a week for five weeks for personal training and $100 a week for nutrition plans.
The brothers said in testimony that Mr. Smollett had never said what the check was for, but that they assumed it was for the fake attack because they were in the midst of planning the attack when Mr. Smollett gave the check to Abimbola Osundairo.
They said they were also giving him diet advice and providing personal training, but that their rates were much lower than the amount reflected in the check.
Mr. Smollett said at his trial that he never wanted to call the police or for anyone to know about the attack.
“I am an openly gay man. I am an actor. I want to play a boxer. I want to be a superhero,” he said. If news of his attack got out, he said, he would only be known as a gay person who got beat up.
Write to Joe Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org
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