CHICAGO — Jussie Smollett loudly maintained his innocence Thursday after a judge sentenced the former “Empire” actor to 150 days in jail for lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that he orchestrated himself.
Cook County Judge James Linn ordered that Smollett's county jail sentence begin immediately following the hearing.
Smollett didn't make a statement when offered the opportunity earlier in the afternoon but maintained that he was innocent after Linn issued his sentencing decision. He also insisted that he was not suicidal, suggesting that “if anything happens” in jail, he did not take his own life.
“If I did this, then it means that I stuck my fist in the fears of Black Americans in this country for over 400 years and the fears of the LGBT community," Smollett said, standing up at the defense table as his lawyers and sheriff's deputies surrounded him. “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.”
As deputies led him from the courtroom, Smollett shouted out again.
“I am innocent," he yelled, raising his first. “I could have said I am guilty a long time ago.”
The judge also sentenced Smollett to 30 months of felony probation and ordered that he pay $120,106 in restitution to the city of Chicago and a $25,000 fine.
Smollett's dramatic reaction capped an hourslong sentencing hearing.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb asked Linn to include “an appropriate amount of prison time” when sentencing the actor for his conviction. Smollett's attorneys asked the judge to limit the sentence to community service, arguing that he had already been punished by the criminal justice system and damage to his career.
Family members echoed those comments.
“I ask you, judge, not to send him to prison,” his grandmother, 92-year-old Molly Smollett, told the court. She later added, “If you do, send me along with him, OK?”
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.
Several supporters spoke about worries that Smollett would be at risk in prison, specifically mentioning his race, sexual orientation and his family’s Jewish heritage.
Linn said he did consider those requests for mercy, along with Smollett's prior work and financial support of social justice organizations. But Linn also excoriated Smollett as a narcissist and pronounced himself astounded by his actions given the actor’s multiracial family background and ties to social justice work.
“For you now to sit here, convicted of hoaxing, hate crimes ... the hypocrisy is just astounding,” Linn said.
Before the sentencing portion of the hearing began, Linn rejected a motion from the defense to overturn the jury's verdict on legal grounds. Judges rarely grant such motions.
Smollett faced 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 did not expect him to be sent to prison.
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.
Unlike the trial, Linn agreed to let photographers and a television camera inside court for the hearing — meaning the public got to see and hear Smollett speak in court for the first time.