Just over three months after being found guilty on five felony counts, including lying to Chicago cops about an alleged 2019 hate crime attack, former Empire actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced to 150 days in jail today under a sentence of 30 months probation and restitution to the Windy Cindy and $25,000 in fines.
Smollett leap up screaming “I am not suicidal” soon as the sentence was unveiled and deputies prepared to take him to the Cook County Jail.
Facing up to three years in prison on each charge and tens of thousands in fines on the felonies for the well-publicized case, the innocence insisting Smollett was always looking unlikely to get the maximum by Cook County Judge James Linn because of his lack of any previous criminal record. Though an argued motion to toss out the December 9 verdict and get a new trial failed earlier in Thursday’s hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in the Windy City, defense attorney Tina Glandian and Smollett’s other lawyers have made it clear they plan to appeal the sentence just handed down.
Promising no “cookie cutter justice,” Judge Linn said from the bench in announcing sentencing that he didn’t believe he could make the findings to hand down consecutive sentences on the five Class 4 felonies. Speaking directly to Smollett, a borderline angry Judge Linn told him that he turned his “life upside down by your misconduct and shenanigans” by “hoaxing racial and homophobic hate crimes.” Saying he “didn’t know where to begin,” Linn castigated “selfish, arrogant and narcissistic” Smollett for his “pre-meditated” actions in the context of the commitment to social justice that was fundamental to the performer’s upbringing, life and career.
“You really craved the attention,” Judge Linn speculated on Smollett’s motivations as he centered on the assumed “damage” to true hate crime victims and reporting that the performer has caused. “You wanted to make yourself more famous …throwing a national pity party for yourself.”
“You’re just a charlatan, pretending to be the victim of a hate crime,” Linn concluded of “toxic” Smollett. “You committed hour upon hour of pure perjury” he went on to say of the performer’s stint on the stand in his own defense late last year.
In a shift from the 2021 trial, today almost none of the principals were wearing a mask in courtroom today as plexiglass protected special prosecutor Daniel Webb, deputy special prosecutor Sam Mendenhall, prosecutor Sean Wieber and team, as well as the defense, addressed Judge Linn before sentencing. The most noticeable exception to that unmasking was Smollett himself. With his sister Lovecraft Country star Jurnee Smollett in the courtroom with other family members, the performer sat mostly inscrutably at the defense table with a black mask on throughout almost all of the proceedings, which kicked off just after 11 AM PT.
“I’ve never had a trial that has been argued as extensively as this one,” a clearly patient strained Judge Linn said on Thursday at the end of the motion arguments from both sides. “We’ve talked about this for two years, I do believe that at the end of the day, Mr. Smollett received a fair trial,” the Judge added. After passionately presenting his own argument against the defense, Judge Linn deep sixed any notion of a new trial
Railing against Smollett’s “fake hate crime” and his refusal to show “a single act of contrition,” special prosecutor Webb took to the podium late in the proceedings to once again accuse the defendant of “knowingly” denigrating “true hate crimes” in his actions. In his vehement remarks on sentencing, Webb for the first time recommended “prison time” for Smollett, as a well as financial restitution to the city of Chicago, taking a previously paid $10,000 as a “credit.”
In his response, defense lawyer Nenye Uche called Webb’s recommendations, “overkill, beating a dead horse.” He added: “And that is not justice, that’s retribution.” Smollett declined the opportunity to speak at today’s hearing beyond a “No, your honor” when asked by Linn if he had anything to say.
Initially erupting with calls of compassion and outrage, including from then POTUS Donald Trump. the emerging details and contradictions of the alleged pre-dawn January 29, 2019 assault on Smollett soon turned the actor into a source of derision and embarrassment.
Flipping on their pal, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo’s revelation that Smollett had paid the brothers $3,500 by check and $100 in cash just before the attack during that very cold night occurred tore away much of the sympathy the actor who most famously played middle son Jamal Lyon on the blockbuster Lee Daniels and Danny Strong created primetime soap for five seasons. Though completely dumped from Empire in the show’s sixth and final season, Smollett and later his lawyers repeated over and over that the money to the Osundairos was for help getting the actor in shape for a music video, the conclusion was widely drawn otherwise.
Once the siblings confessing their part in the scheme after being held for hours under interrogation by Chicago cops, a pervious light-handed legal system turned against Smollett almost as fast as public opinion shifted correspondingly.
Though Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office tossed out the original case against Smollett after he forfeited a $10,000 bail, the outcry saw ex-Iran Contra lawyer Webb being brought on board as a special prosecutor in the summer of 2019. In February 2020, as Smollett came up short trying to get the new probes dismissed, Webb indicted the actor on the damning six felonies. As was true of so many cases in America in 2020 and 2021, the trial was delayed for over a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While jury came down hard on Smollett on five of the six Class 4 felonies (which are the lowest level in the land of Lincoln) under Illinois’ disorderly conduct statute late last year after a mere nine hours of deliberations, there was one ray of sunshine for the Empire alum. The performer was found innocent of making a false police report in the days after the so-called assault that he was the victim of an aggravated battery
Before today’s sentencing hearing, the likes of the Rev. Jesse L Jackson, Sr, members of Smollett’s family and circle, director of BLM Grassroots and Co-Founder of BLM Los Angeles Dr. Melina Abdullah, Alfre Woodard, and Samuel L. Jackson and spouse LaTanya Richardson Jackson sent letters to Judge Linn asking for “mercy” for the actor, to quote the correspondence from the Oscar nominee. Former Presidential candidate and civil rights icon Rev. Jackson put the matter in the starkest terms in his POV, warning of the risks facing “well-known, nonviolent, Black, gay man with Jewish heritage” in prison. Dragging out today’s hearing, those letters were read aloud Thursday for the record in the courtroom.
Unlike the nearly two-week long trial last year, cameras were permitted in Judge Linn’s courtroom today. However, also unlike last year’s court drama, there was no coverage of the sentencing hearing on the usual cable newser suspects of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel on Thursday. The trio were almost wall-to-wall on the latest horrors of Russia’s now nearly two-week invasion of Ukraine.
As for Jussie Smollett, the performer is still technically facing a civil suit from the City of Chicago over the manpower and resources spent on the police investigation into the alleged hate crime.
Just as the trial got underway last December, authorities reiterated that they still intend to seek the around $130,000 they’ve estimated Smollett cost the now Mayor Lori Lightfoot-run metropolis. “The city is a victim of Mr. Smollett’s crimes because his false reports caused CPD to expend scarce resources that could have been devoted to solving actual crimes,” a filing earlier this week from the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department stated.
The paperwork from the city’s top cop and a lawyer suggested the prosecutors should recommend to Judge Linn that he order Smollett pay the $130,106 ASAP — which is exactly what deputy special prosecutor Mendenhall did in reading out a letter form the CPD for the overtime expenses.
As is typical in such hearings, in the hopes of a reduced sentence various character, witnesses such as Smollett’s media “challenging” 92-year old grandmother Molly Smollett and ex-Empire musical director Rich Daniels took the stand to praise the “justice warrior,” as the elder Smollett called her tearing up grandson. Making a point of noting Smollett’s charitable works over the years, Daniels tried to put the vast success Empire enjoyed in its early seasons and the sudden superstar status Smollett achieved in context. Daniels noted how few TV shows make it more than five seasons and that the “lightening in a bottle” of the 2015 debuting hip hop drama was watched by over 30 million viewers some weeks.