Jussie Smollett's attorneys formally started the process to appeal the "Empire" actor's conviction Friday as they took steps to secure his release from Cook County Jail while the appeal is pending.
Members of Smollett's legal team spent the majority of Friday at Illinois' First District Appellate Court downtown Chicago where they filed an emergency injunction seeking Smollett's release. An appellate court judge ruled prosecutors have five days to respond to the emergency motion.
Also Friday, as anticipated, the actor's defense attorneys filed a notice of appeal in Cook County Criminal Court.
One day earlier, a judge sentenced Smollett to 150 days in Cook County Jail following his conviction for lying to police about being the victim of a hoax hate crime in 2019. Smollett was also sentenced to 30 months of felony probation, ordered to pay more than $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago and was fined $25,000.
Feeling out of the loop? We'll catch you up on the Chicago news you need to know. Sign up for the weekly Chicago Catch-Up newsletter here.
He began his sentence immediately after learning his fate Thursday.
The criminal case 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.
In his ruling, Judge James B. Linn said 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."
During his sentencing, Smollett was allowed to make a statement, but chose not to on the advice of counsel, citing a potential appeal in the case.
But just after Linn read the sentence, Smollett addressed the court and once again denied wrongdoing in the case.
“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," Smollett said, standing up at the defense table as his lawyers and sheriff's deputies surrounded him. “Your Honor, I respect you and I respect the jury but I did not do this. And I am not suicidal. And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself. And you must all know that.”
As deputies led Smollett from the courtroom, he repeatedly shouted that he was innocent, and that he was not suicidal.
Heather Widell, one of Smollett's defense attorneys, said the amount of time Linn spent addressing her client during the sentencing was surprising, considering this was not a murder case.
While the actor remains in jail, the plan is for someone on his defense team to visit every day.
"He is strong," Widell said. "We want to make sure he has the full support of team and family."