Jussie Smollett was sentenced Thursday (March 10) to 150 days in jail for lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that the former Empire actor orchestrated himself.
Cook County Judge James Linn sentenced Smollett to 30 months of felony probation, including 150 days in the county jail. Linn denied a request to suspend Smollett’s sentence and ordered he be placed in custody immediately.
Smollett was also ordered to pay $120,106 in restitution.
Smollett loudly proclaimed his innocence after the sentence. “I am innocent. I could have said I am guilty a long time ago,” Smollett shouted as sheriff’s deputies led him out of the courtroom, capping an hourslong sentencing hearing.
Ahead of his sentencing, Smollett declined to make a statement at the hearing, saying he agreed with his attorney’s advice to remain quiet. Smollett’s decision came after special prosecutor Dan Webb asked Cook County Judge James Linn to include “an appropriate amount of prison time” when sentencing the actor for his conviction. Webb said he would not ask for a specific amount of time, leaving that to Linn’s discretion.
Smollett’s defense attorney Nenye Uche asked Linn to limit the sentence to community service. He said Smollett “has lost nearly everything” in his career and finances and asked that Linn give him time to make restitution if that is part of the sentence.
Witnesses for both the state and Smollett testified at Smollett’s sentencing at the Cook County Courthouse. Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, who was called by the state, submitted a statement that was read aloud by Samuel Mendenhall, a member of the special prosecution team.
In the statement, Brown, who became superintendent in April 2020 and wasn’t with the city at the time of Smollett’s police report, said Smollett’s false report of a hate crime harmed “actual victims” of such crimes. Brown asked that the city be compensated for its costs, saying the cost of investigating his claim could have been spent elsewhere in the city.
Jussie Smollett’s grandmother, testifying for the defense, asked Linn not to include prison time in his sentence for Smollett.
“I ask you, judge, not to send him to prison,” Molly Smollett, 92, told the court. She later added, “If you do, send me along with him, OK?”
Smollett’s brother, Joel Smollett, Jr., told the court that Smollett is “not a threat to the people of Illinois. In my humble opinion he is completely innocent.”
Smollett’s attorneys also read aloud letters from other supporters, including an organizer with Black Lives Matter, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson that asked Linn to consider the case’s effect on Smollett’s life and career and to avoid any confinement as part of his sentence.
Other supporters spoke about worries that Smollett would be at risk in prison, specifically mentioning his race, sexual orientation and his family’s Jewish heritage.
Smollett will eventually learn if a judge will order him locked up for his conviction of lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that he orchestrated himself or allow him to remain free. Before the sentencing began, Linn rejected a motion from the defense to overturn the jury’s verdict on legal grounds. Judges rarely grant such motions.
“I do believe at the end of the day that Mr. Smollett received a fair trial,” Linn said.
Smollett, who is expected to continue to deny his role in the staged attack in January 2019, faces up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — the charge filed for lying to police — of which he was convicted. He was acquitted on a sixth count.
But because Smollett does not have an extensive criminal history and the conviction is for a low-level nonviolent crime, experts do not expect that he will be sent to prison. The actor could be ordered to serve up to a year in county jail or, if Linn chooses, be placed on probation and ordered to perform some kind of community service.
The sheer size and scope of the police investigation was a major part of the trial and is key in a $130,000 pending lawsuit that the city filed against Smollett to recover the cost of police overtime, so the judge also could order the actor to pay a hefty fine and restitution.
Thursday’s sentencing could be the final chapter in a criminal case, subject to appeal, that made international headlines when Smollett, who is Black and gay, reported to police that two men wearing ski masks beat him, and hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him on a dark Chicago street and ran off.
In December, Smollett was convicted in a trial that included the testimony of two brothers who told jurors Smollett paid them to carry out the attack, gave them money for the ski masks and rope, instructed them to fashion the rope into a noose. Prosecutors said he told them what racist and homophobic slurs to shout, and to yell that Smollett was in “MAGA Country,” a reference to the campaign slogan of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Smollett, who knew the men from his work on the television show Empire that filmed in Chicago, testified that he did not recognize them and did not know they were the men attacking him.
During the hearing, Smollett will be allowed to make a statement. He could repeat some of the things he told jurors during the trial about how he was simply a victim of a violent crime.
Unlike the trial, Linn has agreed to let photographers and a television camera inside court for the hearing — meaning the public will for the first time get to see and hear Smollett speak in court.