Jussie Smollett was sentenced to 30 months probation on Thursday, March 10 for filing a false police report about a staged hate crime; he will serve the first 150 days probation in county jail. Smollett was convicted of five felony disorderly conduct counts on December 9, 2021, following an eight-day trial.
The actor was taken into custody immediately after Judge James Linn handed down his sentence after the judge spoke for nearly an hour. The day’s proceedings lasted more than seven hours total. As officers walked Smollett out of court, he raised his fist and shouted: “I am not suicidal! I am innocent! I could have said that I was guilty a long time ago!”
The Empire actor filed a police report in 2019 claiming that he was the victim of a hate crime. At the time, Smollett told cops that he was attacked by two white men near his Streetsville area home in the early morning hours of January 29, 2019. He claimed the men tied a noose around his neck, yelled racist and homophobic epithets, and poured bleach on him.
Two dozen investigators spent 3,000 hours working Smollett’s case. Law-enforcement officials ultimately said they determined that Smollett faked the crime. Smollett was arrested on February 21, 2019. The Chicago district attorney dropped all of the charges against him as of March 26, 2019, however, spurring controversy among police and attorneys.
Some said that the district attorney’s decision had the appearance of impropriety, while others criticized the secretive handling of this decision. Smollett was indicted again in February 2020; his case and trial were handled by a special prosecutor.
Chicago Police Department detective Kimberly Murray, who interviewed Smollett after the incident, testified at trial that the actor refused to provide his cell-phone and medical records to investigators — and that he opted out of providing a DNA sample that could have been used to test for evidence, the Associated Press reported.
Detectives became more convinced Smollett fabricated the attack as they discovered more evidence, such as surveillance footage, GPS data, cell-phone records, and taxi and rideshare info. Chicago detective Michael Theis testified that extensive evidence helped them determine “that the alleged hate crime was actually a staged event.”
During Smollett’s trial, prosecutors said that he hired two Empire extras, brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, to carry out the hoax, going so far as to provide them detailed instructions on the bogus attack. Abimbola testified that he went through with the plan because he hoped Smollett would help his acting career. Abimbola said that Smollett “wanted me to fake beat him up.”
“He told me that we needed another person to fake beat him up,” Abimbola also said. “He mentioned my brother could do it. I said yes.”
He testified: “He wanted me to punch him, but he wanted me to pull the punch so I didn’t hurt him; and then he wanted me to tussle him and throw him to the ground and give him a bruise.”
Smollett said that he knew the Osundairo brothers, claiming to have met Abimbola at a club in 2017 before learning he worked on Empire too. Smollett claimed he and Abumbola wound up having a sexual relationship, regularly using drugs during these encounters. (Abimbola denied the alleged sexual relationship during his testimony.)
Smollett’s lawyer contended that the Osundairo brothers attacked him because they wanted to provide him security, and that he didn’t agree to this. The defense team also claimed that the Osundairo brothers asked Smollett for a total of $2 million if they didn’t take the stand against him.
The Osundairo brothers, who were arrested in February 2019 and then released without charges, filed suit against Smollett’s attorneys in April 2019. They alleged that Smollett’s lawyers made false statements about the brothers’ involvement in the hoax, harming their livelihoods.
Smollett said “No, your honor,” when asked if he wanted to address the court before sentencing. One of his lawyers, Nenye Uche, told Linn that he had advised Smollett against saying anything at the sentencing.
During Smollett’s sentencing, both the prosecution and defense made their arguments for an appropriate punishment. “He made the choice he wanted to fake a hate crime to benefit himself,” said one of the prosecutors, Dan Webb. “He made the choice to falsely report it to the Chicago Police Department because he wanted public attention.” The prosecution also read a letter from Chicago officials asking for part of Smollett’s sentence to include $130,000 in restitution for the police resources he wasted.
Smollett’s team argued against jail or prison. Uche effectively argued that he had endured punishment enough due to media coverage of his case — and the ensuing damage to his reputation and career.
They called two longtime associates, and two family members, in an attempt to argue that he has a good character. They also read several letters asking for mercy — including a missive from Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson.
Smollett’s family asked for leniency, and slammed the media for their coverage of criminal proceedings. Joel Smollett, Jussie Smollett’s brother, asked the judge to spare his sibling jail time.
Molly Smollett, Jussie’s 92-year-old grandmother, said: “The Jussie I know and love does not match up with the media’s portrayal of him. You haven’t done a good job on investigative reporting.” She asked the judge not to send Smollett to prison but “if you do, send me along with him.”
Linn recognized that Smollett’s life was already in shambles. “I know that there is nothing that I will do here today that will come close to the damage you’ve already done to your own life,” Linn stated at the proceeding, saying shortly thereafter, “You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it.” Linn didn’t buy the idea that Smollett’s positive characteristics and good works outweighed his actions. Linn slammed Smollett, repeatedly saying that the actor had done damage to real hate-crime victims.
“The only thing I can find is that you really craved the attention and you wanted to get the attention and you were so invested in issues of social justice, and you knew this was a sore spot” in American history, Linn said. Smollett, Linn said, did this “for one reason: You wanted to make yourself more famous, and for a while, it worked.”