The former ‘Empire’ star is facing new felony counts over the scandalous attack he allegedly orchestrated in 2019.
Jussie Smollett’s controversy from two years ago isn’t over just yet. The actor, who is facing six felony counts over a racist and homophobic attack he allegedly orchestrated, begins his trial this week in Chicago, with jury selection beginning on Monday. The trial comes nearly three years after Smollett claimed that he was assaulted outside of a hotel in Chicago in January 2019 by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him, tied a noose around his neck, and poured bleach on him — an elaborate attack that police ultimately determined to be staged by Smollett himself.
Following this revelation, Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct. Yet, these felony charges, delivered in March of 2019, were dropped the same month. This new trial stems from a grand jury indictment in February 2020, in which Smollett now faces six counts for staging a hate crime and for false reports.
The fiasco has turned the actor, previously most known for his work on the show Empire, into a disgraced star, although Smollett, who pleaded not guilty to these new charges, has maintained his innocence throughout. After the first set of charges were dropped — a controversial decision that the Cook County State’s Attorney Office partially explained by citing Smollett’s “volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago” — Smollett claimed that he had been “truthful and consistent on every single level since day one."
The evidence, though, is dubious for Smollett, who was purportedly disgruntled about his pay on Empire and whose supposed orchestration of the attack was also preceded by a letter threatening death (and included a packet of white powder that turned out to be aspirin) that police say he fabricated and sent to himself on the set of the show.
Phone records indicate he spoke to the attackers, two brothers, before and after the assault, and Smollett initially refused to give his phone to police after the attack. The police also have the check that Smollett paid to the brothers (police say Smollett paid the attackers $3500), though the actor’s attorney claimed that the attackers were Smollett’s trainers that he had paid only for “nutrition and training.”
The charges against Smollett have the possibility of carrying jail time — sentences for a Class 4 felony range from one to three years — and if he is found guilty he may be forced to pay for the cost of the investigation. Smollett is also facing a lawsuit from the City of Chicago over the investigation costs.
For his part, the actor, who is scheduled to appear in court in February, has remained completely silent in light of this new trial. “The attempt to re-prosecute Mr. Smollett one year later on the eve of the Cook County State’s Attorney election,” his legal team said in a statement responding to the new charges, “is clearly all about politics and not justice.”