A judge in Chicago sentenced Jussie Smollett to five months in jail on Thursday, ordering that the actor be incarcerated for falsely reporting to the police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in 2019, reported The New York Times.
At the end of a hearing that lasted about five
hours, Judge James B. Linn excoriated Mr. Smollett from the bench, saying that
he had concluded that the actor had premeditated the hoax and that despite his
and his family’s admirable past work in social justice, he had an arrogant,
selfish side and had planned the stunt because he “craved the attention.”
In the searing speech, the judge said that Mr.
Smollett’s name had become synonymous with lying, that he had sought to throw a
“national pity party” for himself and that Mr. Smollett’s conduct had
undermined other victims of hate crimes at a sensitive time, as America was
trying to climb out of its painful history of racism.
“You took some scabs off some healing wounds and you
ripped them apart,” the judge said. “And for one reason: You wanted to make
yourself more famous.”
Given the chance to address the court before the
sentencing, Mr. Smollett declined. But after Judge Linn read his sentence, the
actor defiantly stood up and declared, “I did not do this, and I am not
suicidal,” adding that “if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not
do it to myself.” As he was taken into custody to begin his jail sentence, Mr.
Smollett raised his right fist. His lawyers immediately said they planned to
During the hearing, the defense and prosecution
presented sharply different views of Mr. Smollett’s offense. Prosecutors framed
it as a calculated plan to deceive law enforcement and the public at a time
when hate crimes were on the rise. Mr. Smollett’s lawyers portrayed it as a
minor low-level felony that had been subjected to an outsize amount of
“Why are we jumping up and down and acting like this
is a murder case?” said Nenye Uche, a lawyer for Mr. Smollett. “It’s not.”
Daniel K. Webb, the special prosecutor who handled
the case, argued in court that Mr. Smollett had made matters worse for himself
by declaring his innocence in front of the jury.
The judge ultimately sided with the prosecution.
At trial, Mr. Smollett had been found guilty of
felony disorderly conduct, which carries a sentence of up to three years in
prison. The judge decided on a shorter sentence, to be served in a local jail,
and also gave Mr. Smollett a term of more than two years of probation and a
fine of $25,000. He was also ordered to pay more than $120,000 in restitution
for the cost of Chicago’s police investigation of his case.
Before the sentencing, well-known figures like the
Rev. Jesse Jackson; Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, the actress LaTanya
Richardson Jackson; and Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., wrote letters to the judge asking him to forgo prison time.
Supporters argued that Mr. Smollett had no previous felonies on his record and
that he had suffered reputational damage after the police accused him of
orchestrating a hoax assault.
On Thursday, Mr. Webb recommended that Mr. Smollett
be incarcerated for an unspecified amount of time, arguing that his misconduct
was serious, that he lied to the jury and that he had shown no contrition.
“What Smollett did in this case is he denigrated, degraded true hate crimes and he marginalized the people who are true victims of hate crimes,” Mr. Webb told the judge.
The sentencing caps more than three years of twists
and turns in a case that inflamed political divisions and stirred up
controversy among Chicago officials. For days, Mr. Smollett was viewed as a
victim, someone who had been beaten and targeted with racial and homophobic
slurs. Even after the authorities challenged his version of events, it seemed
as though Mr. Smollett would avoid significant criminal punishment.
Prosecutors dropped the charges against him in March 2019. But in
2020, Mr. Smollett was indicted again after Mr. Webb revived the
investigation into what happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019.
The case was closely followed nationally, and in Chicago the issue became particularly potent, as prosecutors’ decision to drop the charges divided their office and the Police Department; the issue also became a central vein of criticism against Kim Foxx, the county’s top prosecutor, during her recent campaign for re-election.
During the trial, the prosecution told the jury that Mr. Smollett had instructed
two brothers, Abimbola Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, to attack him near his
apartment in Chicago, where they placed a rope around his neck like a noose and
yelled, “This is MAGA country.”
The Osundairos each testified at length, explaining
how Mr. Smollett took them through a “dry run” of the attack and asked one of them to “fake beat him up.”
Mr. Smollett, 39, who in 2019 was best known for
starring in the music-industry drama “Empire,” maintained his innocence during seven hours of testimony over
two days, telling the jury that he had been the victim of a real hate crime.
His lawyers argued in court that the Osundairo brothers relished their
proximity to fame and that they wanted to scare Mr. Smollett enough to get him
to hire them as his security detail.
The lawyers also highlighted homophobic comments by
Olabinjo Osundairo, suggesting the attack could have been motivated by bias
against Mr. Smollett, who is gay. (On the stand, Mr. Osundairo repeatedly
denied being homophobic.)
The prosecution's evidence included video surveillance of the men meeting up for what the
brothers said was the “dry run” and Instagram messages from Mr. Smollett to
Abimbola Osundairo shortly before the attack in which the actor provided
updates on the timing of his flight back to Chicago.
The defense disputed that Mr. Smollett had planned
the attack, arguing that both the messages and the footage were evidence that
he had been interacting with Abimbola Osundairo because he had been providing
the actor with fitness training.
The 12-person jury in December found Mr. Smollett
guilty of five out of six counts of felony disorderly conduct related to his
Judge Linn announced his decision after denying the
defense’s bid to have the conviction thrown out or for the actor to gain a new
Much of the hearing was devoted to efforts by the
defense to argue that Mr. Smollett deserved a new trial and that he certainly
should not be jailed. The courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse
contained several members of his family, including his older brother, Joel
Smollett Jr., and other supporters, such as a former musical director for
“Empire,” Rich Daniels. Mr. Daniels took the witness stand to speak to Mr.
Smollett’s character, giving examples of what supporters described as a
generous and humble spirit.
“Incarceration of any kind would send the wrong
message,” said Joel Smollett Jr., as Jussie Smollett wiped tears from his eyes,
“especially in a time in which we as a nation have expressed, in a bipartisan
plurality, the desire to see real criminal justice reform.”
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