Jussie Smollett sentenced to 150 days in jail for staging hate crime
Jussie Smollett's new mug shot after beginning his 150-day jail sentence. (Photo: Cook County Sheriff's Office)
March 10, 2022
Jussie Smollett has been sentenced to 150 days in jail and 30 months of probation for staging a hate crime against himself. The actor — who received support from some Hollywood friends but failed to sway an obviously displeased judge — faced a maximum sentence of three years in state prison.
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The ruling was handed down to the erstwhile Empire star, 39, by Judge James B. Linn at Chicago's George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Thursday. The judge did not hold back when sentencing the actor, whom he called "profoundly arrogant," "selfish" and a "narcissistic," at the end of a wild hearing that took almost six hours. The marathon session ended with an outburst from Smollett, who maintained his innocence throughout, before he was taken immediately to jail.
"I am not suicidal," Smollett yelled in the courtroom. "I am not suicidal. I am innocent and I am not suicidal. If I did this then it means I stuck my fist in the fears of Black Americans in this country for over 400 years, and the fears of the LGBT community. Your honor, I respect you and I respect the jury, but I did not do this and I am not suicidal. And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself and you must all know that. I respect you, your honor. I respect your decision. ... I am not suicidal."
Jussie Smollett appears at his sentencing for faking a hate crime on Thursday, March 10, 2022 at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. (Photo: Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)
Smollett will serve a total of five months in the Cook County Jail, not prison, which is typical for shorter sentences. He was also sentenced to 30 months' felony probation, ordered to pay $120,106 of restitution to the city of Chicago and pay $25,000 fine.
"I know that there his nothing that I will do here today that will come close to the damage you have done to your own life," the judge told Smollett. "You destroyed your life as you knew it."
Linn emphasized the jury got Smollett's verdict right. In December, the entertainer was convicted for repeatedly reporting to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime. Prosecutors say Smollett staged the January 2019 incident to garner sympathy and help his acting career.
"Frankly, I do not believe you did it for the money," the judge said, noting Smollett was making around $2 million a year. "The only thing I can find is that you really craved the attention."
The judge scolded Smollett for preying on a country "that was slowly trying to heal past injustices and current injustices."
"You wanted to make yourself more famous, and for a while it worked," the judge continued, calling out Smollett for throwing a "national pity party for yourself."
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, applauded the five-month jail sentence, saying in a statement, "The criminal conviction of Jussie Smollett by a jury of his peers and today’s sentencing should send a clear message to everyone in the city of Chicago that false claims and allegations will not be tolerated."
Smollett faced up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — for making false reports in the days following the incident — for which he was convicted and a $25,000 fine. He was acquitted on a sixth count — of lying to an investigator weeks after the incident.
Although Smollett did not address the court ahead of sentencing on the advice of his attorney, his grandmother was one of many emotional witnesses who spoke on his behalf, calling him a "justice warrior."
"Jussie is loved and respected by all who know him," she said, asking the judge not to send her grandson to prison. "If you do, send me along with him."
Smollett was not expected to serve time behind bars. Legal experts pointed to the fact that he does not have any prior felony convictions, and his conviction here is for a low-level, nonviolent crime. Also, no one was injured by his crime. Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and actress Alfre Woodard were among those to write letters to the judge asking for leniency.
However, the judge pointed to "ample factors" that made prison time reasonable, including Smollett's "premeditation" for the crime, the pain he caused "real victims of hate crimes," the damage to the city of Chicago and Smollett's "performance on the witness stand" in December as he said the actor committed "perjury."
Jussie Smollett, second from left, at his sentencing hearing on March 10, 2022. (Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)
Before Smollett's sentence was handed down, his attorneys tried to persuade the judge to overturn the conviction or retry the case, citing 13 different errors in the handling of the case. They argued Smollett should have had immunity after the original charges were initially dropped. They also said that a special prosecutor never should have been appointed in this case. They also took issue with the selection of the special prosecutor.
Smollett, who is Black and gay, claimed he was the victim of a hate crime when two men wearing ski masks poured bleach on him, put a noose around his neck and yelled racist and homophobic slurs on a freezing Chicago night. He claimed he had been walking home, on Jan. 29, 2019 at about 2 a.m., after getting food at a Subway. The police investigation led to two brothers, Abimbola ("Bola") and Olabinjo ("Ola") Osundairo, who were acquaintances of the actor. They testified at the December trial that Smollett paid them $3,500 in part to stage the attack.
Jussie Smollett arriving for his sentencing hearing on March 10, 2022. (Photo: REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Smollett testified that he did not recognize them the night of the attack — and didn't know why they attacked him. He said the $3,500 was paid to Bola for personal training services. The actor also claimed he and Bola had a sexual relationship with his attorney implying homophobia could have been a motive for the attack. (Bola denied a relationship.) The defense also alleged the brothers tried to get Smollett to pay them $1 million to not cooperate with prosecutors.
Smollett was initially indicted in March 2019 on 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct. However, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office abruptly dropped all charges weeks later, keeping his $10,000 bond and saying community service he had completed was enough. A special prosecutor was appointed to look into it in August 2019 leading to new charges against Smollett, who was written off Empire, and ultimately the conviction.
Separately, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Smollett in 2019 after he refused to pay back the $130,106.15 for the police investigation. Smollett filed a countersuit. The city of Chicago vowed to pursue the lawsuit after Smollett's conviction.
Smollett's defense attorneys have said they intend to fight the verdict in appellate court.