After an emotional day of testimony on both sides, actor Jussie Smollett has been sentenced to 150 days in jail in connection to a staged hate crime that occurred in Chicago in January 2019.
Smollett will begin his sentence immediately. He was also ordered to pay more than $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago and was fined $25,000.
He was also sentenced to 30 months of felony probation.
Smollett was convicted of lying to police about the staged attack, which he hired two brothers to help him undertake near his Streeterville apartment.
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Judge James Linn issued his ruling on Thursday, saying that the incident's "extreme premeditation" was an aggravating factor in the case. He also said that he believed Smollett orchestrated the attack to an exacting degree, rehearsing it extensively.
"You turned your life upside down," Linn said. "You destroyed your life as you know it. There is nothing I can do to you today that will come close to the damage you've done to your own life."
The judge said that he believed Smollett “craved attention” and that he faked the crime to “make yourself more famous.”
“You were throwing a national pity party for yourself,” the judge said.
The special prosecutor who brought the criminal case against Smollett that led to a guilty verdict against the actor asked a judge Thursday to include “an appropriate amount of prison time” when sentencing Smollett for his conviction of lying to police in a staged hate crime.
Dan Webb said during the sentencing hearing that he would not ask for a specific amount of time, leaving that to Cook County Judge James Linn's discretion. He also asked that Smollett be ordered to pay $130,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago.
Witnesses for both the state and Smollett testified at his sentencing at the Cook County Courthouse. Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, who was called by the state, submitted a statement that was read aloud by Samuel Mendenhall, a member of the special prosecution team.
In the statement, Brown, who became superintendent in April 2020 and wasn’t with the city at the time of Smollett’s police report, said Smollett’s false report of a hate crime harmed “actual victims” of such crimes. Brown asked that the city be compensated for its costs, saying the cost of investigating his claim could have been spent elsewhere in the city.
“The city is a victim of Mr. Smollett’s crime,” Brown said.
Smollett’s grandmother, testifying for the defense, asked Linn not to include prison time in his sentence for Smollett.
“I ask you, judge, not to send him to prison,” Molly Smollett, 92, told the court. She later added, “If you do, send me along with him, OK?”
Jussie Smollett's brother, Joel Smollett, Jr., told the court that Jussie is “not a threat to the people of Illinois. In my humble opinion, he is completely innocent.”
Jussie Smollett’s attorneys also read aloud letters from other supporters, including an organizer with Black Lives Matter, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson that asked Linn to consider the case’s effect on Smollett’s life and career and to avoid any confinement as part of his sentence.
Other supporters spoke about worries that Smollett would be at risk in prison, specifically mentioning his race, sexual orientation and his family’s Jewish heritage.
Smollett was convicted of lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that he orchestrated himself. Before the sentencing began, Linn rejected a motion from the defense to overturn the jury's verdict on legal grounds. Judges rarely grant such motions.
“I do believe at the end of the day that Mr. Smollett received a fair trial,” Linn said.
Smollett, who is expected to continue to deny his role in the staged attack in January 2019, faces up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — the charge filed for lying to police — of which he was convicted. He was acquitted on a sixth count.
But because Smollett does not have an extensive criminal history and the conviction is for a low-level nonviolent crime, experts do not expect that he will be sent to prison. The actor could be ordered to serve up to a year in county jail or, if Linn chooses, be placed on probation and ordered to perform some kind of community service.
The sheer size and scope of the police investigation was a major part of the trial and is key in a $130,000 pending lawsuit that the city filed against Smollett to recover the cost of police overtime, so the judge also could order the actor to pay a hefty fine and restitution.
Thursday's sentencing could be the final chapter in a criminal case, subject to appeal, that made international headlines when Smollett, who is Black and gay, reported to police that two men wearing ski masks beat him, and hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him on a dark Chicago street and ran off.
In December, Smollett was convicted in a trial that included the testimony of two brothers who told jurors Smollett paid them to carry out the attack, gave them money for the ski masks and rope, instructed them to fashion the rope into a noose. Prosecutors said he told them what racist and homophobic slurs to shout, and to yell that Smollett was in “MAGA Country,” a reference to the campaign slogan of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Smollett, who knew the men from his work on the television show “Empire” that filmed in Chicago, testified that he did not recognize them and did not know they were the men attacking him.
During the hearing, Smollett was allowed to make a statement, but chose not to on the advice of counsel, citing a potential appeal in the case.
Unlike the trial, Linn agreed to let photographers and a television camera inside court for the hearing — meaning the public for the first time got to see and hear Smollett speak in court.