Feb. 24 (UPI) — Television actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Monday on a six-count indictment charging him with falsely reporting that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack near his Chicago home.
Smollett, 37, entered the plea in the Chicago courtroom of Judge James Linn after the Cook County Circuit Court judge rejected a plea from Smollett’s attorneys to delay the arraignment as they sought to dismiss the charges against him.
Formerly a cast member of the popular television show Empire, Smollett and an entourage entered the court, ignoring questions shouted by reporters.
After entering the not guilty pleas, Linn set bond at $20,000 and released Smollett on his own recognizance, ordering him to return to court March 18. He quickly left the courthouse with his supporters, again without recognizing questions.
Smollett — who is black and openly gay — was indicted this month by a special grand jury that accused him of filing false police reports in connection with a January 2019 incident in which he said he was attacked by two white men who looped a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him after taunting him with racial and homophobic remarks.
In a case that divided the nation along lines of race and sexual orientation, police ultimately said the incident was a hoax and that Smollett staged the assault to bolster his career, and charged him with 16 counts of disorderly conduct. Those charges were dropped a month later in a controversial move by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
A Chicago judge subsequently accepted a petition to reopen the case and appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to lead a new inquiry. Following a six-month investigation, Webb announced the new charges.
Smollett has maintained his innocence and said police have overlooked witnesses who corroborate his story.
Defense attorney Tina Glandian questioned the “integrity of the investigation” and said after the hearing she will file motions to have the case dismissed on grounds of double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same crime.
Glandian also said the defense will challenge the legality of appointing a special prosecutor.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Sunday Smollett needs to take responsibility for damage caused to the city.
“He needs to face the charges,” she said. “He committed a crime, and he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and we are going to continue to aggressively make him accountable for the wasted police resources that went into investigating what turned out to be a total hoax.”