Jussie Smollett sentenced to 5 months in jail for staging fake hate crime in downtown Chicago

“You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it,” Judge James Linn told the former “Empire” actor. “There is nothing any sentencing judge could do compared to the damage you’ve already done.”

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Flanked by family members, supporters, attorneys and bodyguards, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse his sentencing hearing, Thursday afternoon, March 10, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Jussie Smollett remained defiant to the end Thursday, loudly denying he staged a fake hate crime in an incident that drew international attention as he was hauled from a Cook County courtroom to begin a five-month stint in jail.

“I did not do this,” Smollett said after the sentence was handed down, tugging at his suit coat. “... I am innocent.”

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The actor, who is Black and gay, added: “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 LGBTQ community.”

He said repeatedly he was 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,” he said.

Judge James Linn had refused to suspend Smollett’s sentence pending an appeal, insisting the actor be taken immediately to jail.

“This is happening,” the judge said.

Smollett then raised his fist in the air as he was led from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies and again shouted his innocence.

Upon being booked into the jail, Smollett will get a medical and mental health assessment by Cermak Health Services, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office said. Officials declined to say more Thursday night, including if he will be placed in protective custody or placed on suicide watch.

Smollett will likely serve only half the 150-day sentence, as his jail term is eligible for “day-for-day” credit for good behavior. He will then have to serve out the balance of a 30-month sentence of probation.

Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett

Cook County Sheriff’s Office

Smollett was also fined $25,000 and ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago. When combined with the $10,000 bond that Smollett agreed to forfeit when he struck a controversial deal with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office to dismiss charges against him in 2019, the amount is equal to the $130,000 the city spent on police overtime during its investigation of the false report.

Linn handed down the sentence after he delivered a scathing 30-minute monologue directed at the actor. The jail time was more than most legal observers expected for Smollett, who was convicted of five low-level felony counts that might have earned a more low-profile defendant a sentence with no jail time.

But Linn said Smollett’s history as an activist supporting the causes of Black and LGBTQ people who cast himself as the victim in a choreographed attack in which he scripted racist, homophobic remarks for his hired attackers to shout as they pretended to beat him represented “astounding hypocrisy.”

“Why would you betray something like social justice which you care so much about?” he asked Smollett.

Linn also noted that the case against Smollett was particularly harmful to the cause of real hate crime victims and that the investigation drained police resources for a wild goose chase.

“There are people who are actual genuine victims of hate crimes that you did damage to,” he said.

Still, Linn conceded there was no sentence a judge could give the former “Empire” actor that would be worse than the public humiliation the star had endured since faking the attack.

“You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it,” he said. “There is nothing any sentencing judge could do compared to the damage you’ve already done.”

“Your very name is a verb for lying,” Linn added later. “I can’t imagine anything worse than that.”

Smollett attorneys: Sentence a ‘double standard’

After the verdict, Smollett’s attorneys called the sentence “disturbing” and said it was an example of the disparate sentences given to Black men involved in the criminal justice system.

“If there’s anyone who has any doubts of the double standard in the criminal justice system ... today should be a reflection of that,” lead attorney Nenye Uche said.

Smollett’s family members took turns decrying the sentence and declaring their relative’s innocence.

“He did not deserve this,” said brother Jocqui Smollett, who continued to insist his brother had truly been the victim of an attack near his apartment in Streeterville three years ago.

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Flanked by family members and supporters, Jocqui Smollett speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after his brother, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, was sentenced to 150 days in jail and 30 months of probation for staging a hate crime near his Chicago apartment in 2019, Thursday afternoon, March 10, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Before the sentence was announced, special prosecutor Dan Webb had argued strongly that Smollett should face some term of incarceration for his “serious misconduct” when he claimed he was attacked in the frigid early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019, as he walked home from a Subway restaurant by two men wearing red hats with President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

“He didn’t want to fake an automobile accident,” Webb argued. “He wanted to fake a hate crime to benefit himself because he is Black and gay.”

Webb said he believed Smollett’s lies would have serious consequences in making “true victims” of hate crimes less likely to come forward.

Webb also repeatedly accused Smollett of lying to jurors in his testimony on the witness stand during his trial and said he still had never admitted his role in the hoax. Not “a single act of contrition has happened so far in this case,” Webb said.

Smollett had declined to make formal remarks at the hearing before he was sentenced Thursday.

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Jake Smollett (left), and Janet Smollet (center left), and family leave the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, was sentenced for staging a hate crime near his Chicago apartment in 2019, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The hearing also featured a slate of prominent character witnesses who praised Smollett’s involvement in social justice causes and urged the judge to spare the actor from having to go to jail.

Smollett wiped away tears as his 92-year-old grandmother, Molly, took a seat in the witness box and described her grandson’s kindness and his dedication to supporting the downtrodden.

“I urge you, judge, not to send him to prison,” she said. “If you do, send me along with him.”

Smollett’s lawyers read from letters from other supporters, including family friend Samuel L. Jackson, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the top officers of Black Lives Matter and the NAACP. The letters described the performer as someone who spent years toiling on causes that mattered to him when he was a relative unknown and said he later used his celebrity and his growing paychecks to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity.

“I appeal to you in the spirit of righteousness to consider the impact America’s criminal justice system has on young Black males who struggle everyday to survive the streets of urban America,” Rev. Jackson wrote. “We have an obligation as a society to favor restorative justice rather than retributive justice.”

Actress Alfre Woodard, who had known Smollett since he was a child, said in another letter that the whole situation had taken a huge toll on the actor already.

“The punishing has been relentless and has left nothing more to take,” Woodard said. “If he is incarcerated, I fear for his safety.”

The hearing got underway Thursday afternoon with the actor’s attorneys outlining 13 purportedly “critical errors” that demand the guilty verdict be overturned. Defense attorney Tina Glandian said the fact he was prosecuted twice constituted double jeopardy and should be overturned.

She also noted that when prosecutors made the unorthodox move to drop all charges against Smollett just weeks after he was initially indicted, they struck an “immunity-type agreement” in which charges were dismissed in exchange for 15 hours of community service and a $10,000 payment.

“He was promised not to be called back into court, but that was exactly what happened,” Glandian said.

Once Webb was appointed to prosecute the case and Smollett was brought back into court, many people already believed he was guilty, she said. Smollett walked into the trial “with a presumption of guilt” because of public statements made by former police chief Eddie Johnson and others, she said.

Linn rejected those arguments in denying Smollett’s request for a new trial.

“I do believe at the end of the day Mr. Smollett received a fair trial,” the judge said.

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Former federal prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed special prosecutor in the Jussie Smollett case, walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for Smollett’s sentencing hearing, Thursday afternoon, March 10, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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