American actor Jussie Smollett has been sentenced to nearly five months in prison after being found guilty of falsely telling police he was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime in 2019, an attack prosecutors said he orchestrated.
The 39-year-old gay African American was found guilty in December of “planning” the fake assault paying two Nigerian brothers $3,500 and lying to the police in his statements.
“You really crave attention and you wanted attention,” Chicago Judge James Linn told the former “Empire” star as he read the sentence Thursday night.
He said the actor had a streak that was “deeply arrogant, selfish and narcissistic”.
“This was premeditated to the extreme… You have destroyed your life as you knew it,” Linn said, adding that “you hurt real victims of hate crimes.”
He said Smollett was “just a charlatan, pretending to be the victim of a hate crime.”
Smollett’s sentencing and subsequent outburst capped an hour-long hearing Thursday and more than three years of legal drama following Smollett’s claim that he had been the subject of a racist and homophobic attack.
Smollett did not make a statement when offered the opportunity before the judge announced sentencing, saying he was listening to his attorneys’ advice. But after Linn issued her decision, Smollett removed the mask he wore during the hearing to plead not guilty.
“If I did this, it means I put my fist into the fears of African Americans in this country for over 400 years and the fears of the LGBT community,” Smollett said, standing at the defense table as his attorneys and the bailiff led them away. deputies surrounded him.
“Your Honor, I respect you and I respect the jury, but I didn’t do this. And I’m not suicidal. And if something happens to me when I go in there, I didn’t do it to myself. And all of you should know that.
As officers led him out of the courtroom, Smollett screamed again.
“I am innocent,” he yelled, raising his fist. “I could have said I’m guilty a long time ago.”
The judge sentenced Smollett to 30 months of felony probation, with 150 days served in the Cook County jail, and ordered him to pay $120,106 in restitution to the city of Chicago and a $25,000 fine.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb asked Linn to include “an appropriate amount of prison time” when sentencing the actor to his five-count disorderly conduct conviction.
“His conduct denigrated hate crimes,” Webb said after the hearing. “His conduct will discourage others who are victims of hate crimes from coming forward and reporting those crimes to law enforcement.”
Smollett’s attorneys wanted the judge to limit the sentence to community service, arguing that he had already been punished by the criminal justice system and hurt his career.
Family members echoed those comments.
“I ask you, Judge, not to send him to prison,” his grandmother, Molly Smollett, 92, told the court. She later added, “If you do, send me to him, okay?”
Smollett’s attorneys also read aloud letters from other supporters, including the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and actors LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson asking Linn to consider the effect of the case on Smollett’s life and career.
Several supporters spoke about concerns that Smollett would be at risk in prison, specifically mentioning his race, sexual orientation, and his family’s Jewish heritage.
Linn said she considered those clemency requests, along with Smollett’s previous work and financial support from social justice organizations. But Linn also criticized Smollett as a narcissist and declared himself shocked by his actions given the actor’s multiracial family background and his ties to social justice work.
“The damage you’ve done to yourself goes way beyond anything else that could happen to you from me,” Linn said. “Now you’re a permanently sentenced felon.”
Thursday’s sentencing, which is subject to appeal, is the latest chapter in a criminal case that made international headlines when Smollett reported to police that two men in ski masks beat him and hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him on a darkened street in New York. Chicago and fled. .
The case took a strange turn when Cook County prosecutors dropped the initial 16-felony charges against him in March 2019.
But he was re-indicted in February 2020 by a grand jury in Cook County, which handles crimes in Chicago, on six counts of disorderly conduct related to the alleged false reports.
The case initially shocked a deeply divided country still plagued by racial and sexual discrimination, and the actor immediately received celebrity endorsements in political and cultural circles.