entertainment 3 days ago

Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty during arraignment for alleged hoax

Los Angeles Times — Nardine Saad Los Angeles Times

March 14--Actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Thursday to 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to investigators about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.

The 36-year-old "Empire" star walked confidently into the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, where Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to preside over the attention-grabbing case. He wore aviator sunglasses and a blue suit, and kept his head held high. He was accompanied by attorney Tina Glandian and an entourage.

Glandian entered the plea on his behalf. Smollett's next court date was scheduled for April 17, according to the Associated Press.

Smollett will be allowed to travel to New York and Los Angeles, where his attorneys are based, without asking court permission, but he must notify pre-trial services before leaving the state, CBS Chicago reported. L.A.-based celebrity attorney Mark Geragos joined Smollett's legal team in recent weeks.

Smollett was indicted on Friday by a Cook County grand jury in relation to a Jan. 29 incident that law enforcement officials believe the "Empire" actor orchestrated because he was dissatisfied with his pay on the Fox series and to advance his career.

Smollett has denied staging the alleged attack in Streeterville, and he made a surprise appearance at a court hearing on Tuesday "to show confidence in his innocence," his representative told NBC News. A judge at that hearing ruled that cameras would be allowed in the courtroom on Thursday.

In January, the actor, who is black and gay, told police that he was the victim of a racial and homophobic hate crime. He said that two men hurled slurs at him, beat him up, threw bleach on him and put a noose around his neck.

As his story went viral, Smollett appeared to ride the wave of attention during a sold-out Los Angeles concert and a now-infamous interview with "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts.

But his narrative has been repeatedly called into question, and the investigation abruptly shifted last month following testimony from two brothers who became persons of interest in the case.

Smollett surrendered to authorities on Feb. 21 after the brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who said they were hired by Smollett to carry out the attack, provided Chicago Police with evidence and testimony that investigators said implicated the actor. The Nigerian American brothers have said they have "tremendous regret over their involvement in this situation." They do not face any charges.

Prosecutors initially charged Smollett with a single felony count at the time and he was released from Cook County Jail after a friend posted a $100,000 bond.

Cook County State's Atty. Kim Foxx has recused herself from the case and has asked for it to be turned over to the FBI, according to local reports.

"Empire" returned for its midseason premiere on Wednesday, debuting the first of Season 5's nine remaining episodes. Smollett will still feature in seven of them but was written off of the final two episodes due to his case.

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