Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty in Repeat Appearance in Court

Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty in Repeat Appearance in Court


CHICAGO — Almost a year after he walked out of court seemingly a free man, the actor Jussie Smollett returned to court on Monday to again face charges that he had lied to the police about a hate crime attack that detectives said he had staged.

Mr. Smollett, 37, appeared in court two weeks after a special prosecutor, Dan K. Webb, announced that a grand jury had indicted Mr. Smollett on nearly identical charges that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped 11 months ago.

Mr. Smollett’s lawyer, Tina Glandian, entered a plea of not guilty as her client stood before the judge, hands clasped and with his black overcoat still on. The judge, James B. Linn of Cook County Circuit Court, allowed the actor to remain free, saying he was not a flight risk and rejecting prosecutors’ request for $10,000 bail. Mr. Smollett walked out without comment, his departure captured by a line of television cameras in the hallways outside the courtroom.

[A timeline of the case|What we know about the evidence]

The case has spellbound the city ever since Mr. Smollett, who played a son of a hip-hop mogul on the Fox drama “Empire,” reported on Jan. 29, 2019, that he had been attacked by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, placed a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him. Mr. Smollett, who is gay, told the police that the attackers also yelled, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.

But the Police Department concluded that Mr. Smollett had paid two brothers to stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary on “Empire.”

Weeks after Mr. Smollett was indicted, the state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges against him. In exchange, Mr. Smollett performed 15 hours of community service and forfeited the $10,000 bond that had released him from jail. Prosecutors said at the time that it was an appropriate resolution because Mr. Smollett was not a violent criminal and had a long record of community service.

But the outcome angered prominent officials in Chicago, including then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel; the city is now suing Mr. Smollett for more than $130,000 it said it had spent investigating the reported hate crime.

Mr. Smollett has maintained his innocence throughout, denying that he had hired the brothers.

A judge appointed Mr. Webb, a former federal prosecutor, as special prosecutor last year after concluding that Ms. Foxx had acted improperly when she handed the case to her deputy instead of someone outside her office. Ms. Foxx had removed herself from the case because of contact she had with representatives of Mr. Smollett when the police still considered him a victim.

Mr. Webb obtained an indictment this month charging Mr. Smollett with six counts of disorderly conduct by giving various false statements to the police. In a statement that accompanied the announcement of the new charges, Mr. Webb sharply criticized the way in which the state’s attorney’s office resolved the original case.

When the office approved the first grand jury indictment, it appeared to have strong evidence against Mr. Smollett, Mr. Webb said. There was no indication that prosecutors had learned new information casting doubt on Mr. Smollett’s guilt before the office dropped all of the charges against him without requiring that he admit wrongdoing, Mr. Webb said.

Ms. Glandian, the actor’s lawyer, said on Monday that she had filed a motion with the Illinois Supreme Court arguing that the new indictment constituted double jeopardy because Mr. Smollett had already been punished by forfeiting the $10,000 bond. “Trying to punish him a second time around is not permitted,” she said outside court, adding that it was “very frustrating” for Mr. Smollett to be back in court nearly a year after the charges were dropped.

Mr. Webb did not comment on the motion, but is likely to argue that because Mr. Smollett never was tried or pleaded guilty, he was still eligible to be prosecuted.

Ms. Foxx is running for re-election, and her opponents in the Democratic primary have criticized her office’s handling of the Smollett case. Her campaign denounced the “James Comey-like timing” of the new charges, referring to the former F.B.I. director’s public pronouncements about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server just before she lost to Mr. Trump. Mr. Webb said that he had not found any wrongdoing by Ms. Foxx’s office, but that he was still investigating.

Mr. Smollett was dropped from the cast of “Empire” after his arrest last year. Since then, his acting and singing career appears to have stalled, and he has had little public exposure beyond his court appearances.

Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, the brothers who attacked Mr. Smollett — either at his behest or not — watched Monday’s proceedings from the courtroom gallery.

“The brothers want the public to know that they were open and honest and remorseful about their conduct,” their lawyer, Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, said outside the courtroom with the Osundairos by her side. “They have been truthful since day one and they will continue to be truthful.”

Julia Jacobs contributed reporting from New York.



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