Judge sentences ‘profoundly arrogant’ Jussie Smollett to 150 days in jail
“Empire” star Jussie Smollett was sentenced Thursday to 150 days in jail for lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that he orchestrated in 2019, which caused a national uproar as it unfolded.
Describing Smollett’s crime as “a crime of opportunity” and a “crime of premeditation,” Cook County Judge James Linn also sentenced the actor to 30 months of felony probation and ordered him to pay more than $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago and a maximum fine of $25,000.
The 39-year-old actor will be allowed to travel during his probation and will not be required to live in Illinois during that period. Linn will allow him to report for probation by phone.
When asked if he had anything to add, Smollett, who had sat quietly through Thursday’s hours-long hearing, had an outburst in the Chicago courtroom and repeatedly yelled, “I am not suicidal, and I am innocent.”
“If I did this, then it means that I stuck my fist in the fears of Black Americans in this country for over 400 years. And the fears of the LGBT community,” Smollett said, growing increasingly upset and eventually raising his fist in the air.
“Your Honor, I respect you and I respect the jury, but I did not do this,” he added. “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.”
He was eventually taken away in handcuffs.
‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced to five months in jail for staging an attack on himself in 2019. This Q&A explains how we got here.
Smollett, who has weathered personal and professional fallout over the last three years, arrived at the courthouse Thursday afternoon flanked by family members. Some of them, including his brother Joel and his 92-year-old grandmother, offered character-witness statements during the mitigating-factors phase of sentencing.
Taking the witness stand, Molly Smollett looked directly into the courtroom camera and called the media portrayal of her grandson a “betrayal” that doesn’t match up with the man she knows. “If you send him to prison, send me along with him,” she said.
Social justice and civil rights organizations Black Lives Matter, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the NAACP, as well as actors LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson and Smollett’s “Empire” co-star Alfre Woodard, also provided statements of support that were read aloud in court. They asked that Smollett’s history of community service, lack of criminal record and unlikelihood for recidivism be weighed during sentencing for his nonviolent offense.
The Jacksons, who have known Smollett since he was a baby, asked “for mercy” and an alternative to incarceration for Smollett for the low-level Class 4 felony. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson wrote the statement for RPC.
“There is nothing I can do here today that can compare to the damage you’ve already done to your own life,” Linn said earlier, adding that he did not believe Smollett committed the crime for money but for attention.
“The only thing that I can find is that you really craved the attention ... You knew that this was a country slowly trying to heal and you took some scabs off some healing wounds.”
Linn added that he saw the good sides of Smollett during the trial but also saw his dark side, one that was “throwing a national pity party” for himself and ultimately hurt victims of real hate crimes. He called Smollett “profoundly arrogant and selfish and narcissistic” in carrying out the 2019 incident and lying to authorities about it.
“You’re just a charlatan pretending to be a victim to a hate crime, and that’s shameful,” Linn said.
Despite Linn’s sharp words, the sentencing was expected to be somewhat lenient toward the actor because he doesn’t have an extensive criminal history and because he was convicted of a low-level, nonviolent crime, Associated Press reported. Smollett had faced a penalty of up to three years in prison for five felony counts of disorderly conduct. However, Linn described Smollett’s performance on the witness stand during the trial as “pure perjury” and as an ample aggravating factor to harshen the sentence.
Column: The Jussie Smollett story is not just about Jussie Smollett. It’s about us
This is not a column about Jussie Smollett.
And while that appears to conclude the protracted case, Smollett’s attorney has said they plan to appeal the conviction.
Smollett’s defense attorney, Tina Glandian, on Thursday first sought to have the jury’s verdict overturned and filed a motion last month for a new trial. Glandian argued that there were 13 errors in the previous trial that overlooked exculpatory evidence and “constituted reversible error” that “undoubtedly affected the verdict.”
Prosecutors in court Thursday said that they “universally disagree” that there was any error in those prior rulings and that the evidence “overwhelmingly established Mr. Smollett’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” They also presented a victim-impact statement on behalf of the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department that said Smollett’s actions hurt “actual victims” of hate crimes.
Smollett took the witness stand at a trial where he’s facing charges of staging a racist, anti-gay attack on himself and lying to police about it.
During the aggravating-factors segment of the proceedings, prosecutor Dan Webb argued that Smollett faked a hate crime “to benefit himself because he’s Black and gay and then he made a choice to report it to the Chicago Police Department to bring public attention to it.” Webb said that Smollett also obstructed justice by lying to police and never showed contrition or apologized after the alleged incident.
The judge denied the motion for a new trial and upheld the jury’s verdict nearly two hours into the proceedings Thursday.
“I’ve never had a case that has been pled as exhaustively as this one,” Linn said. Later, he said that he found Smollett’s “extreme meditation in the case to be an aggravating factor.”
The defense team had declined having cameras in the courtroom up until Thursday’s hearing, when a live feed of the proceedings was available to the public.
After a nearly two-week trial, which took place on the cusp of the Omicron surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smollett was convicted in Chicago in December on charges that he staged an antigay, racist attack on himself nearly three years ago and then lied to police about it. The actor-singer has maintained his innocence throughout the case and said in court testimony that “there was no hoax.”
Black Lives Matter and CNN anchor Don Lemon had differing opinions on the Jussie Smollett verdict, while conservatives skewered the actor’s case.
He was found guilty on five of six counts of disorderly conduct — one count for each time he allegedly lied to police in the days immediately after he alleged the hate crime. He was acquitted on a sixth count. Smollett claimed to police that on that frigid night, two assailants beat him, put a rope around his neck and splashed him with a liquid chemical.
Brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo were originally suspected to be the assailants; however, they claimed that Smollett, whom one of the brothers knew from work, paid them $3,500 to stage the attack.
The trial included the testimony of five Chicago Police Department officers, the Osundairo brothers and Smollett himself, as well as six of his witnesses.
Smollett wasn’t taken into custody when the verdict was returned in December but remained free until Thursday’s sentencing.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.