Actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty for attack hoax

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Actor Jussie Smollett after his court appearance at Leighton Courthouse on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

By AFP

A US actor who was accused of fabricating a hate crime pled not guilty Monday to six new charges against him, after all charges were dropped last year.

Former "Empire" star Jussie Smollett was accused in 2019 of masterminding a hoax attack in Chicago to gain publicity and secure a bigger paycheck.

"He's obviously frustrated to be dragged through this process again," said his lawyer Tina Glandian after the hearing Monday.

But they were ready to go to trial if necessary, she added.

The 37-year-old actor was indicted on February 11 by a grand jury in Cook County, which handles crimes in Chicago, on six counts of disorderly conduct related to the alleged false reporting.

Smollett, who had been one of the main cast members on "Empire," reported to police in January 2019 that he was attacked in the middle of the night by two masked men while walking near his home in the large midwestern city.

But Chicago police eventually said he staged the whole thing.

Smollett, who is gay and African American, maintained his innocence in the face of a damning public account from authorities of their case against him.

They accused him of sending himself a threatening letter -- complete with homophobic and racial slurs -- and hiring two acquaintances, brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, to stage the attack while invoking Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

The case got even weirder when Cook County prosecutors eventually dropped the initial 16 felony counts against him last March.

The city did, however, send a letter to Smollett's attorneys, asking the actor to pay the $130,000 cost of overtime work related to the police investigation.

Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, who is representing the Osundairo brothers, told reporters outside the courtroom Monday that the men "want the public to know that they were open and honest and remorseful about their conduct."

"They have been truthful since day one and they will continue to be truthful," she said.

The episode revived America's long-simmering debate about how just the country's criminal justice system really is, whether the rich get off easy -- and whether prosecutors should have so much discretion.