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Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to new charges in criminal court in Chicago

Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett, center, with attorney Tina Glandian, left, arrives to the Leighton Criminal Court Building for his arraignment on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Chicago. Smollett faces charges that he made false statements to police regarding a staged homophobic and racist attack in Chicago last year. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Almost a year to the day after Jussie Smollett was first brought up on charges accusing him of staging a bizarre hate crime on himself, the former “Empire” actor pleaded not guilty in a new criminal case connected to the incident.

Smollett pleaded not guilty to six counts of disorderly conduct before Judge James Linn. A new indictment earlier this month alleged Smollett made four separate false reports to Chicago police in the aftermath of the Jan. 29, 2019, incident near Smollett’s residence in Chicago’s tony Streeterville neighborhood.

Smollett’s lawyers had requested a delay in the arraignment since they have filed paperwork with the Illinois Supreme Court regarding the case and a motion in Linn’s courtroom to dismiss the indictment on double-jeopardy grounds.

Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett, second from right, with attorney Tina Glandian, fourth from right, arrives to the Leighton Criminal Court Building for his arraignment on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Chicago. Smollett faces charges that he made false statements to police regarding a staged homophobic and racist attack in Chicago last year. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Linn did not delay the proceedings and instead released Smollett on a $20,000 individual bond and ordered him to return to court March 18.

Smollett arrived in a dark SUV Monday with an entourage that included his lawyer, Tina Glandian. As they walked silently up the courthouse steps, several cameramen tripped as they backed up, creating a small pileup. Smollett did not respond to questions shouted by reporters as he made his way into court.

After two false starts, Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. announced that Smollett’s case was assigned to Judge Linn, a courthouse veteran with a spacious seventh-floor courtroom.

Linn was the third judge selected to hear Smollett’s case. The first two selected via a random generator, William Gamboney and Diane Gordon Cannon, both happened to be out sick Monday, Martin said.

“I want a judge that’s here,” he said.

Before his case was assigned to Linn, Smollett sat ramrod-straight in the gallery next to his supporters during a recess, including his sister Jurnee Smollett-Bell.

Across the packed courtroom gallery sat brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, key prosecution witnesses who told police Smollett paid them to stage the attack. The defense has, in turn, accused them of actually beating Smollett and then lying to police about what happened. It was not immediately cleared why the men were there to watch the court proceedings.

Cook County prosecutors dropped the first case against the actor with little explanation in a highly controversial move that has cast a long shadow over the upcoming primary race for state’s attorney.

Smollett, who has since moved out of state, now must undergo the criminal court process anew. He is expected to learn which judge will be assigned to his new case, enter a plea of not guilty, and have a bond hearing.

After a judge found that Smollett’s first prosecution was invalid, veteran attorney Dan Webb was appointed to determine whether the actor should again face charges. On Feb. 11, his special grand jury indicted Smollett on new counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police.

Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told police he was attacked by two men as he was walking home after getting a sandwich at a Subway restaurant. The men shouted slurs, poured bleach or a similar substance on him and hung a noose around his neck, he told officers.

But the actor, best known for his now-ended role on the Fox TV show, eventually turned from victim to suspect, and in a twist, police said that the entire incident was a hoax and that Smollett actually staged the assault from start to finish to bolster his career.

In bringing the new charges earlier this month, Webb said he considered “the extensive nature” of Smollett’s falsehoods, the massive amount of time and money Chicago police put into the investigation, and the strength of the evidence cited by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s own prosecutors in bringing the original charges, according to a news release.

Not only did prosecutors drop charges without requiring Smollett to admit guilt, but he also left the courtroom that day having been given credit for two days of community service he had already performed, and he paid no restitution except forfeiting $10,000 in bond money — less than 10% of the approximately $130,000 the police spent on overtime in the case, Webb noted.

Webb was appointed to his post by Cook County Judge Michael Toomin in August with a broad mandate to probe every aspect of the Smollett case, including whether to bring further charges against the actor. He impaneled a grand jury late last year that has been hearing evidence from Webb’s law offices at Winston & Strawn.

By the time the 2019 charges were brought, Foxx said she had recused herself from overseeing the prosecution after revealing she had contact with a member of Smollett’s family early in the investigation at the request of Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.


© 2020 Chicago Tribune

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