Actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to restored charges
CHICAGO (AP) — Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Monday to restored charges that accuse him of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself last year in Chicago and falsely reporting to police that the phony attack was real.
His lawyer, Tina Glandian, entered the not guilty pleas on his behalf to six counts of felony disorderly conduct. She also told Judge James B. Linn that she has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to halt the case.
A somber looking Smollett, 37, entered the Cook County courthouse wearing sunglasses and sporting a beard, flanked by his legal team and surrounded by reporters.
“He’s obviously frustrated to be dragged through this process again,” Glandian told reporters after the hearing.
She called the revived prosecution “an ordeal” for Smollett and said he has the support of relatives, some of whom flew out from California to be with him.
“He’s strong, he’s resilient, he’ll get through this, but he’s frustrated,” she added.
Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of the charge in the same courthouse last year, just weeks before the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office abruptly announced it was dismissing the case, angering police and City Hall.
Smollett’s attorneys also have filed a motion in Cook County court arguing that the refiling of charges violated protections against being charged twice for the same crime, known as double jeopardy. Prosecutors have said double jeopardy does not apply because Smollett was not prosecuted last year.
Linn on Monday set a $20,000 personal recognizance bond, which means Smollett does not have to pay any of it. He was not taken into custody. His next court date is March 18.
Special Prosecutor Dan Webb, a former U.S. attorney who was appointed to examine the state’s attorney’s office’s handling of the case, represented the state. Foxx’s office is not involved in the new case against Smollett.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the defense motion filed with Illinois’ high court argues that the appointment of the special prosecutor was legally flawed.
Smollett has repeatedly denied police allegations that he staged the attack to get attention and further his career.
Smollett, who is black and gay, told police that two masked men attacked him as he was walking home in the early hours of Jan. 29, 2019. He said they made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing, and that at least one of his attackers was a white man who told him he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Weeks later, police alleged that Smollett had paid two black friends to help stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary as an actor on “Empire,” a Fox series filmed in Chicago that follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.
The friends, brothers Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were among those who attended Monday’s proceedings. If Smollett’s case makes it to trial, they would be the state’s star witnesses. The brothers are bodybuilders and aspiring actors whom Smollett knew from the “Empire” set and the gym.
Their attorney, Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, told reporters after the hearing that the brothers were there to “support the process.”
“They are here because they want the truth to be told. ... The brothers are sorry for their involvement and ... they’re going to do everything they can to make this right,” she said.
Glandian, Smollett’s lawyer, said she was “surprised” the brothers showed up.
“There was no reason for them to appear in court,” she said.
Glandian has questioned the integrity of the special prosecutor’s investigation, pointing out that Webb’s probe relied on the same detectives who were part of the original investigation despite pending civil claims that Smollett is pursuing against the city and police for malicious prosecution.
Foxx’s handling of the case has become a key issue in her bid for re-election, with her opponents accusing her of having acted haphazardly and indecisively.
Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.