Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty to 16 Felony Counts - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty to 16 Felony Counts

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Jussie Smollett made his second court appearance of the week on Thursday in Chicago, where he pleaded not guilty to the 16 felony counts he was indicted on earlier this month. 

Smollett remained silent as he entered the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago wearing a suit and sunglasses. Some of his siblings were present to support him, and sat near the back of the courtroom. 

Smollett’s attorney entered a not guilty plea on behalf of the actor, who stood next to his attorney with his hands behind his back. Smollett looked straight ahead and never looked around. 

The Empire star will be allowed to travel to New York and Los Angeles without asking court for permission. His next court date is set for April 17.

Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on March 14, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett stands accused of arranging a homophobic, racist attack against himself in an attempt to raise his profile because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the Fox television drama 'Empire.'
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Smollett also made a court appearance on Tuesday to attend a hearing on whether cameras would be allowed at his hearing today, which the judge did in fact end up allowing.The actor's legal team said they welcomed cameras as a counter to what they called misinformation being leaked to the media. A source told ET at the time that Smollett chose to come to court on Tuesday -- though he wasn't required to -- because he wanted to be as transparent as possible, and that he looks forward to the evidence being presented in court. 

Interestingly enough, Empire returned for its Season 5 midseason premiere on Wednesday, marking the show's first new episode since Smollett's alleged Jan. 29 attack. While there has been a lot of speculation regarding the actor's future on the show -- as Empire's own future is now shrouded in mystery and facing rumors of cancellation -- several episodes of the second half of Season 5 were already in the can before Smollett's legal drama unfolded.

Not surprisingly, Smollett's first episode back had a lot of strong reaction on Twitter, with many admitting that it was hard to watch Smollett play his character Jamal without thinking about his real-life legal troubles.

Smollett was arrested on Feb. 21 after being charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report in which he claimed he was the victim of a hate crime. When reporting the January attack, Smollett claimed that he was assaulted by two masked men who yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him, poured what he believed was bleach over him and put a noose around his neck.

But in a press conference following Smollett's arrest, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department Eddie T. Johnson claimed that the actor staged his alleged attack to promote his career, and because he was "dissatisfied" with his Empire salary.

"As far as we can tell, the scratching and bruising that you saw on his face were most likely self-inflicted," Johnson alleged. " ... Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career."

Smollett, 36, is now facing 16 felony counts. The counts focus on allegedly false statements made to two different Chicago Police officers.

"Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed," the indictment states.

One of Smollett's attorneys, Mark Geragos, responded to the indictment in a statement to ET.

"The fact of an indictment was not unexpected," the statement read. "We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination. What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie. This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie's privacy in tampering with his medical records. Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption."

Meanwhile, following the news of his indictment, Chief Communications Officer of the Chicago Police Department Anthony Guglielmi tweeted: " ... Allegations against Mr. Smollett are shameful & if proven, they are an affront to the people of Chicago who embraced him as a neighbor & respected him as a role model. We stand behind the work of detectives & refer any comment on indictment to prosecutors."

Smollett has maintained that he is a victim and denied all allegations that he staged the incident.

-- Reporting by Brendon Geoffrion

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'Empire' Returns With Tearful Jussie Smollett and Fans Have Strong Feelings

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