What did Jussie Smollett do? Empire actor’s hoax hate crime explained, who is he, and what is his sentence

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Judge James Linn told the actor that he had turned his name into ‘an adverb for lying’

American actor Jussie Smollett has been sentenced to jail and ordered to pay $145,000 in fines after he was found to have lied to police about a staged hate crime.

Smollett maintained his innocence throughout the trial and after his sentencing, he told the court: “I did not do this.”

This is everything you need to know.

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Who is Jussie Smollett?

Smollett is an American actor and singer, best known for his role as Jamal Lyon on the drama series Empire.

He began his career as an actor in the early 90s, with roles in films and TV shows like The Mighty Ducks, North, Cro and On Our Own.

From 1994 to 1995, he appeared alongside his real life brothers and sisters on the ABC sitcom On Our Own.

Smollett was cast in Empire in 2014 and at the time, his role a gay struggling musician was dubbed as “groundbreaking” for its positive representation of a gay Black man on TV.

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Smollett is best known for starring on the TV series Empire (Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)Smollett is best known for starring on the TV series Empire (Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
Smollett is best known for starring on the TV series Empire (Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The following year, Smollett came out as gay during an interview with Ellen DeGeneres. Speaking to Out in 2016, Smollett said that “if I had to label myself, I would label myself a gay man” but added that he was open to love beyond the confines of gender.

“If I fall in love down the road with a woman, I’m going to love that woman,” he said.

Outside of acting, Smollett was also a musician and in 2015 he confirmed that he had signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. Later that year he co-wrote two songs that appeared on the original soundtrack of the first season of Empire, called I Wanna Love You and You’re So Beautiful.

He released his debut album, Sum of My Music, in March 2018 through his own label, called Music of Sound.

What was the hate crime hoax?

This is the timeline of events:

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22 January 2019

Smollett alerted to police that he had received a threatening racist and homophobic letter at the studio where Empire was being filmed.

The inside of the envelope also contained a white substance which would eventually be identified as aspirin.

Police would later say that they suspect that Smollett sent the letter to himself.

30 January 2019

Smollett claimed that he had been attacked in downtown Chicago by two masked assailants at around 2am, and that he had been punched in the face, had an “unknown chemical substance” poured over him, and had a rope wrapped around his neck.

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Smollett was found guilty last year of lying to police about a hate crime (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)Smollett was found guilty last year of lying to police about a hate crime (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Smollett was found guilty last year of lying to police about a hate crime (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Smollett also told the police that the two attackers had shouted that he was in “MAGA country”, referring to the “Make America Great Again” slogan famously used by ex-President Donald Trump and his supporters.

According to reports, Smollett took himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was released later that morning.

30 January 2019

Chicago police state that they reviewed hundreds of hours of CCTV footage, which included Smollett walking in downtown Chicago, but couldn’t find any of the alleged attack.

However, the police went ahead and released images of two individuals that they wanted to speak with, calling them “persons of interest”.

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Meanwhile, reports of the attack result in an outpouring of support for Smollett by fellow celebrities and politicians.

31 January 2019

A statement issued by Smollett’s family described the attack as a hate crime, and disputed claims that the actor had changed his story.

Smollett’s sister, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, posted on her Instagram: “Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning...  We are thankful to our village for your immense support during this trying time... Jussie is a warrior whose light cannot be dimmed.”

1 February 2019

Smollett himself issued his own statement which said that he was okay, and that he was working with the authorities.

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Speaking to Essence, Smollett said: “I am working with authorities and being 100% factual and consistent on every level.

“Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe justice will be served.”

2 February 2019

Smollett opened for a concert in West Hollywood and during an emotional speech, he told the audience that he had to play the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.

Smollett performs onstage at Troubadour on February 02, 2019 (Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for ABA)Smollett performs onstage at Troubadour on February 02, 2019 (Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for ABA)
Smollett performs onstage at Troubadour on February 02, 2019 (Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for ABA) | Getty Images for ABA

He said: “The most important thing I have to say is thank you so much and that I’m okay. I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to.

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“And I’m gonna stand strong with y’all... I will always stand for love. I will never stand for anything other than that.”

12 February 2019

Smollett gave the Chicago Police Department his phone records, but were described as “heavily redacted”.

CPD Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi said: “We are very appreciative of the victim’s cooperation; however, the records provided do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation as they were limited and heavily redacted.

“Detectives may be following up with him to request additional data to corroborate the investigative timeline.”

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13 February 2019

Two brothers were picked up by Chicago police at O’Hare International Airport where it was revealed that at least one of them worked on Empire.

Following questioning by the police, the men had their apartment searched.

15 February 2019

The brothers were released without charge by police after having been arrested on suspicion of assault, and having been held for 48 hours. A police spokesperson at the time said that the two men were no longer suspects and instead were being treated as “witnesses”.

16 February 2019

Police said that the focus of the investigation had now “shifted” following the questioning of the two men. A follow up interview with Smollett was then requested.

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Smollett has maintained his innocence throughout the trial (Photo: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)Smollett has maintained his innocence throughout the trial (Photo: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Smollett has maintained his innocence throughout the trial (Photo: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

In response, Smollett’s attorneys issued a statement which said: “As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with.

“He has now been further victimised by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth, and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”

20 February 2019

Smollett is charged by prosecutors with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report regarding the alleged attack.

21 February 2019

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says that Smollett staged the attack over frustrations with his salary and wanted more publicity.

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Investigators add that they have a $3,500 cheque that Smollett used to pay the two brothers to help with the incident.

Johnson said: “Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I’m left hanging my head and asking why.”

He added that Smollett had sent the threatening letter from 22 January to himself, but when that didn’t draw much attention, Smollett approached the two brothers and “paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud”.

Smollett’s attorney at the time dismissed the claims as “outrageous allegations” and that Smollett “vehemently denies” the allegation.

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22 February 2019

Empire producers announce that Smollett’s character will be removed from the final two episodes of the season.

In a statement, the producers of the show said that while “we care about him deeply”, the decision was made in order to “avoid further disruption on set”.

7 March 2019

A Cook County grand jury returned 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct against Smollett for filing a false report and making false statements to Chicago police officers.

A handout from the Chicago Police Department in which Jussie Smollett poses for a booking photo after turning himself into the Chicago Police Department (Photo: Chicago Police Department via Getty Images)A handout from the Chicago Police Department in which Jussie Smollett poses for a booking photo after turning himself into the Chicago Police Department (Photo: Chicago Police Department via Getty Images)
A handout from the Chicago Police Department in which Jussie Smollett poses for a booking photo after turning himself into the Chicago Police Department (Photo: Chicago Police Department via Getty Images) | Getty Images

Each charge carried a potential sentence of up to three years in prison.

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The indictment read: “Jussie Smollett knew that at the time there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offences had been committed.”

26 March 2019

It was then announced that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office abruptly dropped the charges against Smollett. A brief statement said: “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”

Celebrating the reversal, Smollett said: “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of.”

5 April 2019

After the charges against Smollett were dropped, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel sued the actor for $130,000 on behalf of the city for “the cost and time investigating his false police report”.

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23 April 2019

The brothers who alleged that they helped Smollett stage the attack filed a defamation lawsuit against Smollett’s attorneys.

23 August 2019

Special prosecutor Dan Webb speaking to the media at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)Special prosecutor Dan Webb speaking to the media at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Special prosecutor Dan Webb speaking to the media at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images) | Getty Images

US Attorney Dan Webb was named by a judge as a special prosecutor to investigate why the charges against Smollett had suddenly been dropped.

11 February 2020

Webb stated that a grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Smollett, accusing him of lying to the Chicago police.

24 February 2020

Smollett pleaded not guilty to the newly resorted charges.

15 October 2021

Judge James Linn denied Smollett’s last-ditch attempt to dismiss the case, and instead set his trial for 29 November.

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29 November 2021

Smollet’s trial began with jury selection and opening statements from lawyers.

6 December 2021

Smollett testified in his own defence.

8 December 2021

Jury deliberations then began in Smollett’s trial.

9 December 2021

The jury convicts Smollett on five counts of disorderly conduct, and acquitted him on a sixth count.

10 March 2022

Smollett returned to court for sentencing.

What is his sentence?

On Thursday (10 March), Smollett was sentenced to five months in jail for the hate crime hoax.

Smollett was also ordered to pay $120,000 restitution to the city of Chicago, plus a $25,000 fine and 30 months of probation by Judge James Linn. The first 150 days of his probation will be spent in custody, effective immediately.

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Before issuing the sentence, Judge Linn said: “You’ve turned your life upside down by your misconduct and shenanigans.

“You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it.

“You wanted the attention and you were so invested in issues of social justice, and you knew this was a sore spot for everybody in this country… You were throwing a national pity party for yourself.”

Actor Jussie Smollett is led out of the courtroom after being sentenced at the Leighton Criminal Court (Photo: Brian Cassella-Pool/Getty Images)Actor Jussie Smollett is led out of the courtroom after being sentenced at the Leighton Criminal Court (Photo: Brian Cassella-Pool/Getty Images)
Actor Jussie Smollett is led out of the courtroom after being sentenced at the Leighton Criminal Court (Photo: Brian Cassella-Pool/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The Judge added that Smollett had rendered his own name “an adverb for lying”.

After his sentence was issued, Smollett said: “I am innocent, and I am not suicidal.

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“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.

“If anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself, and you must all know that.”

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