(CHICAGO) — Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett will get one last chance to publicly admit to fabricating a 2019 hate-crime attack on himself before learning whether a judge sentences him to prison.
Smollett, 39, is scheduled to appear Thursday afternoon in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago to hear his fate after a jury convicted him in December on five of six felony counts of disorderly conduct stemming from him filing a false police report and lying to police, who spent more than $130,000 investigating his allegations.
During his trial, the actor testified in his own defense, maintaining his story that two masked men wearing hats bearing former President Donald Trump’s “MAGA” motto assaulted him on a street and put a noose around his neck.
“There was no hoax,” Smollett testified.
Judge James Linn is allowing news cameras into Thursday’s hearing, in which Smollett is expected to be granted an opportunity to speak.
Several supporters of Smollett, including civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson and actor Samuel L. Jackson, have written Linn letters vouching for Smollett’s character and asking him for leniency, according to ABC Chicago station WLS-TV.
“Jussie has a long track record of being a deeply engaged and contributing citizen,” the Rev. Jackson wrote in his letter to Linn. “Jussie has already suffered.”
Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, actress LaTanya Jackson, sent a letter to Linn asking him to “please find an alternative to incarceration.”
The maximum sentence Smollett faces is three years in prison. But Linn could consider Smollett’s lack of criminal history and sentence him to probation.
The judge could also order Smollett to pay a fine, restitution, or both.
Smollett’s lawyers have said they plan to appeal the conviction and that Smollett is “100% confident” he will win.
The openly gay actor told police that on Jan. 29, 2019, he was walking on a street near his Chicago apartment around 2 a.m. when he was set upon by two men. The attackers allegedly shouted racist and homophobic slurs before hitting him, pouring “an unknown chemical substance” and wrapping a rope around his neck.
Chicago police said Smollett’s story of being the victim of an attack began to unravel when investigators tracked down two men, brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who they said were seen in a security video near where Smollett claimed he was assaulted and around the same time it supposedly occurred.
The Osundairo brothers testified during Smollett’s trial that the actor paid them $3,500 to help him orchestrate and stage the crime.
In a stunning move, Cook County District Attorney Kim Foxx’s office initially dropped all charges against Smollett in March 2019 despite acknowledging Smollett fabricated the street attack on himself in a bizarre attempt to get a pay raise.
Prior to the decision to drop the charges, Foxx recused herself from the Smollett probe after it surfaced that she had been in touch with Smollett’s family. She left the decision on the disposition of the case to Joe Magats, the first assistant state attorney in Cook County.
As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Smollett forfeited 10% of a $100,000 bond and preemptively completed community service prior to the charges being dropped.
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