Reaction was fast and furious to a judge's decision to sentence actor Jussie Smollett to five months in jail in connection with a fake hate crime attack he staged in 2019 in Chicago.
Smollett was also sentenced to 30 months of probation in the case, along with a $25,000 fine and more than $120,000 in restitution to be paid to the city of Chicago in connection with the case.
The sentence was handed down after Smollett was convicted on five of six felony counts of disorderly conduct, filed after he lied to police about a fake hate crime that he helped to orchestrate in Jan. 2019.
Smollett responded tp the sentence by defiantly maintaining his innocence and suggesting he could be killed in jail before being led from the courtroom.
The sentence and Smollett’s post-hearing outburst capped an hourslong hearing and more than three years of legal drama following Smollett's claim that he had been the target of a racist and homophobic attack.
Smollett didn't make a statement when offered the opportunity earlier in the afternoon, saying he was listening to his attorneys' advice. But after Cook County Judge James Linn issued his sentencing decision, Smollett removed the face mask he wore throughout the hearing to proclaim himself innocent.
He also loudly insisted that he was not suicidal, suggesting that “if anything happens” in jail, he did not take his own life.
“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 him from the courtroom, Smollett shouted out again.
“I am innocent," he yelled, raising his fist. “I could have said I am guilty a long time ago.”
The judge sentenced Smollett to 30 months of felony probation, with five months served in jail, and ordered that he 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 for his conviction on five counts of disorderly conduct.
“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.”
Several supporters spoke about worries that Smollett would be at risk in prison, specifically mentioning his race, sexual orientation and his family’s Jewish heritage.
Linn said he did consider those requests for mercy, along with Smollett's prior work and financial support of social justice organizations. But Linn also excoriated Smollett as a narcissist and pronounced himself astounded by his actions given the actor’s multiracial family background and ties to social justice work.
“The damage you’ve done to yourself is way beyond anything else than can happen to you from me,” Linn said. “You are now a permanently convicted felon.”
Smollett's attorney Nenye Uche said he will ask the jail to keep Smollett in protective custody and plans to appeal both the verdict and the judge's sentence.
Uche said he didn't expect Linn to include jail time but Smollett did.
“He said: ‘Because I’m a Black guy, no matter how successful I’ve gotten, I’m Black,’" Uche told reporters after the hearing.
A spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff's Office said Smollett will have a comprehensive medical, mental health and security assessment, a routine process.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised the sentencing, saying that it proves false reports of hate crimes will not go unpunished.
“The criminal conviction of Jussie Smollett by a jury of his peers and today’s sentencing should send a clear message to everyone in the city of Chicago that false claims and allegations will not be tolerated,” she said. “The malicious and wholly fabricated claim made by Mr. Smollett resulted in over 1,500 hours of police work that cost the city over $130,000 in police overtime.”
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx also came under fire for her office's decision to drop its initial charges against Smollett. On Thursday, Foxx blasted a “relentless, organized and effective” push to pursue Smollett while other serious crimes went unsolved or unresolved.
“Just because we do not like the outcome should not mean we bully prosecutors and circumvent the judicial process to get it changed,” Foxx wrote in a column published by the Chicago Sun-Times. “Smollett was indicted, tried and convicted by a kangaroo prosecution in a matter of months.”
Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin blasted Smollett and Foxx, saying that the case undermined confidence in the justice system in Cook County.
“State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Jussie Smollett have undermined and disrespected every person across the country who has been the victim of a hate crime,” he said. “It will take much time for the wounds they inflicted on the justice system in Cook County to heal, but today the people of Chicago and Cook County finally got the justice they deserved in this case.”