Actor Jussie Smollett sentenced to probation, jail time for staging hate crime

Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett leaves court during his trial for six counts of disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to police, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Vondruska/File Photo

March 11, 2022

By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A Chicago court on Thursday sentenced actor Jussie Smollett, one-time star of the TV drama “Empire,” to 30 months probation and 150 days in jail for staging a hate crime against himself.

A jury in December found Smollett, 39, guilty of five of the six felony disorderly conduct counts he faced, one for each time he was accused of lying to police.

On Thursday, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Linn also ordered Smollett to pay over $120,000 in restitution and fined him $25,000.

“I know that there is nothing that I will do here today that can come close to the damage you’ve already done to your own life,” said Linn. “You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it.”

Smollett’s acting career declined after the incident. He lost his role as a singer-songwriter in the final season of “Empire,” a Fox television hip-hop drama that ended a five-year run in 2020.

He has the right to appeal and said in court on Thursday that he was innocent.

Prosecutors said Smollett, who is Black and gay, lied to police when he told them he was accosted on a dark Chicago street by two masked strangers in January 2019.

Smollett claimed the attackers threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressions of support for former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Police arrested the actor a month later, saying he paid two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack in an effort to raise his show-business profile. He eventually pleaded not guilty to six counts of felony disorderly conduct.

His case took an unexpected turn in spring 2019 when the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped a 16-count indictment against him in exchange for Smollett forfeiting his $10,000 bond without admitting wrongdoing.

The dismissal drew criticism from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago’s police superintendent, who called the reversal a miscarriage of justice.

In 2019, a special prosecutor assigned to the case recommended charging Smollett again and a grand jury returned an indictment.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Mark Porter and Tom Hogue)