Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced to 150 days in jail in protective custody on March 10 for falsely reporting a hate crime. Smollett has vowed to appeal the conviction.
“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 at the sentencing hearing.
“Your Honor, I respect you, and I respect the jury, but I did not do this. And I am not suicidal,” Smollett said. “And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I didn’t do it to myself. And you must all know that.”
As he left the sentencing, Smollett raised his fist and proclaimed, “I am innocent. I could have said I am guilty a long time ago.”
He left the courthouse with his right fist raised.
He is housed at Cook County Jail in Chicago and will be among some 6,000 inmates there — most, defendants awaiting trial or convicts serving shorter sentences.
Smollett, 39, was booked into Division 8, a facility used to administer medical and mental health treatment and house inmates who require protective custody, The New York Times reported. He has a private cell and will be allowed “substantial time” outside of his cell to talk on the phone, watch TV and interact with staff members in common areas, but only when other detainees are not present, jail officials said.
An inmate must usually prove he is in extreme danger before being granted protective custody.
The inmate is housed away from others, usually alone in a single cell, not allowed to participate in general population activities such as going to the rec yard, chow hall, open visitation, classes, or church services and more heavily guarded when being transported from one place to another.
In December 2020, Smollett was convicted of falsely reporting a hate crime. Smollett, who is openly gay, claimed he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in 2019. Prosecutors claimed he staged the attack himself.
In late January 2019, Smollett claimed two men assaulted him in Chicago while yelling racist, antigay, and pro-Donald Trump words. The attackers hit him and tied a noose around his neck, Smollett said. But soon after, investigators alleged that he had fabricated the event and that he had hired two Nigerian brothers to perpetrate the attack.
The brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, met Smollett on the set of “Empire.” They were the prosecution’s star witnesses and testified against Smollett. The brothers claimed Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage a hate crime and pose as his assailants.
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Smollett’s lawyers asked for him to be given a new trial or, at the least, have his sentence deferred until they appealed the conviction. The Chicago jail has been described by some social justice advocates as having a “culture of brutality and violence” in the highest security units.
In addition to jail time, Smollett was also sentenced to more than two years of probation, plus a fine of $25,000 and restitution of more than $120,000 to offset the city’s cost in investigating the case.
Prosecutors said Smollett organized the attack during a meeting at Abimbola’s apartment with him and his brother, Olabinjo, who had been recruited to participate. Just after 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019, the brothers staged the attack on Smollett, the prosecution alleges. Smollett then made a false report to the police, according to court papers.
Photo: Actor Jussie Smollett speaks to Judge James Linn after his sentence is read at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, March 10, 2022, in Chicago. Smollett maintained his innocence during his sentencing hearing after a judge sentenced the former “Empire” actor to 150 days in jail for lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that he orchestrated himself. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)