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Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty after being accused of faking racist and homophobic attack

The Independent logo The Independent 14/03/2019 Clémence Michallon
Jussie Smollett et al. that are talking to each other © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Empire actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court on Thursday to charges that he falsely reported to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault on a city street.

The 36-year-old actor's lawyer, Tina Glandian, entered the plea on Smollett's behalf after Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to oversee the case, including the trial. The next court date has been scheduled for 17 April.

Smollett is charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct. Each count carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Prosecutors allege that the actor hired two friends to help stage an attack on him in downtown Chicago early on the morning of 29 January.

Police say Smollett told detectives that two masked men beat him while hurling racist and homophobic slurs, and that they poured an unknown substance on him and hung a noose around his neck before fleeing.

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Smollett has denied staging the attack and maintains his innocence. The actor is free on bond.

Wearing a navy suit and dress coat, Smollett, 36, appeared serious and quiet standing next to his attorneys as Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to his case during Thursday’s hearing.

About a dozen supporters had gathered with signs outside the courthouse, chanting that his prosecution was unjust.

The prosecution has alleged that the actor orchestrated the assault because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to promote his career.

A grand jury in Chicago previously indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts, which his attorneys have called “prosecutorial overkill”.

According to prosecutors, Smollett wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers and gave them $100 to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps used in the supposed 29 January attack.

Police initially arrested the brothers on 13 February, after they were recognised from surveillance footage from near the scene of the alleged attack. One had appeared with Smollett on Empire, police and their lawyer said. Prosecutors allege that one had supplied Smollett with “designer drugs” in the past.

According to authorities, the brothers confessed to the plot. They became cooperating witnesses and were released without charges.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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