Jussie Smollett, once an ‘Empire’ star, is now in Cook County Jail
It was an extraordinary ending for an unusual audience.
Jussie Smollett, sentenced to five months in a Chicago jail, stood up, defiantly declared his innocence and repeatedly warned the room that he was not suicidal and, if anything were to happen to him while he was incarcerated, it wouldn’t be his fault.
Then, with his right fist raised, Mr Smollett was driven to become probably the most famous of the 6,000 inmates at the Cook County Jail.
The prison mainly houses defendants awaiting trial, but also convicts serving shorter sentences, such as Mr Smollett, 39, who has been booked in Division 8, a facility used to administer medical and mental health treatment , as well as detainees in need of protection. keep.
Mr. Smollett has a private cell, which is monitored by security cameras and an officer posted at the entrance, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. He will have “substantial time” outside his cell to talk on the phone, watch television and interact with staff members in common areas, but only when other inmates are not present, the office said.
Judge James B. Linn, who presided over the trial in which the actor was found guilty of falsely reporting a hate crime, had ordered Mr. Smollett to serve his prison sentence under protective custody.
Mr Smollett’s lawyer, Nenye Uche, had said after Thursday’s hearing that his client was vulnerable and deserved special protective measures. “All you have to do is tune into various media, social media, to see some of the nasty things being said about him,” Mr Uche said. “Of course someone like that should be in custody.”
Supporters said the actor was particularly vulnerable to being targeted because he is a gay man and a recognizable celebrity.
Understanding the Jussie Smollett case
Actor Jussie Smollett was found guilty in December of falsely claiming to have been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in 2019.
In pleading for leniency at the hearing, Mr Smollett’s lawyers had pointed to evidence of Mr Smollett’s good character and said they supported his assertion of innocence, urging that he receive a new trial or, at least, probation. They did not mention in their arguments a concern about the specific realities of incarceration at the Chicago prison, which some social justice advocates have describe as having a “culture of brutality and violence” in the highest security units.
Mr. Smollett’s unit is not among those cited.
Criminal defense experts said they believe the prison is likely to do everything in its power to isolate Mr Smollett from other prisoners, given his fame and potential to disrupt daily activities there , which for many detainees includes communal meals at the police station.
“They’re going to put it where they’d have the least disruption to the rest of the facility,” said Steve Greenberg, a Chicago defense attorney who represents singer R. Kelly against sex crime charges in the Illinois. Mr. Kelly was previously detained in the division where Mr. Smollett resides.
Mr Smollett’s lawyers had asked the judge to postpone Mr Smollett’s sentence until they appealed his conviction. But Judge Linn quickly dismissed their request. In addition to the jail sentence, Mr. Smollett was sentenced to more than two years probation, plus a $25,000 fine and restitution of more than $120,000 to offset the city’s costs of investigating the the case.
The maximum sentence allowed for the offense Mr Smollett has been charged with, a felony of disorderly conduct, is three years in prison, but many of those convicted are on probation. Judge Linn cited several factors, including Mr. Smollett’s testimony in the witness box, which the judge called “pure perjury”, in explaining why he ordered a prison sentence.
Sam Mendenhall, a prosecutor handling the case, said on Friday he believed Mr Smollett would not have the option of reducing his prison sentence for good behavior because Judge Linn had ordered it as a condition of probation .
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Thursday that Mr. Smollett would receive a “full medical, mental health and safety evaluation.” Mr Smollett’s sentencing hearing at Leighton Courthouse was unusual in its length – around five hours – and its intensity, with the defence, prosecution and even the judge making impassioned speeches about the case.
Mr Smollett’s supporters, including his 92-year-old grandmother and his former non-profit boss, have made glowing remarks about his commitment to social justice as they plead for the clemency.
In his own extensive remarks, Judge Linn took another approach, sharply condemning Mr Smollett as a narcissistic attention seeker who wasted precious police hours with his ‘stuntman’ and made it harder to catch the seriousness of the real victims of hate crimes.
“Your very name has become an adverb for lying,” Judge Linn said. “And I can’t imagine what could be worse than that.”
Mr Uche later said he was “offended” by the remarks, and outside the courtroom one of Mr Smollett’s brothers, Jocqui Smollett, strongly criticized the judge.
“He scolded my brother,” Mr Smollett said. “He doesn’t deserve this. He was attacked.
Police initially believed Mr Smollett, best known for starring in the music industry drama ‘Empire’, had been the victim of a hate crime when he reported on January 29, 2019 that he had been assaulted by two men who hurled racist and homophobic insults at him, put a rope around his neck like a noose and shouted “this is MAGA country”. But prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Smollett orchestrated the prank himself, including testimony from two brothers, Abimbola Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, who said they lightly assaulted Mr. Smollett on his instructions.
The defense had argued the brothers carried out the attack to scare Mr Smollett into hiring them as security guards. Mr. Smollett’s appeal will likely follow arguments raised by his lawyers on Thursday, in which they cited what they said were errors by the judge and prosecutors, and suggested that Mr. Smollett’s case had already been tried once and could not be punished twice. — a violation of the legal concept of dual criminality.
In 2019, when prosecutors dropped the original charges, Mr. Smollett performed community service and waived his $10,000 bail payment, a punishment that some critics felt was insufficient.
Kim Foxx, the state attorney whose office brokered that initial outcome, sharply criticized the prosecutors which addressed the second indictment in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed on Thursday, calling it a “kangaroo chase” and “mob justice.” (After an investigation of Ms. Foxx’s office, Daniel K. Webb, the special prosecutor who handled the case, discovered that the office abused its discretion, but did not violate the law, by deciding to ‘drop charges.)
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot took a very different tone, saying in a statement that the city had been “vindicated” by the judge’s conviction.
Mr Webb said after sentencing he was struck by the extent to which Mr Smollett was unwilling to express remorse for the damage he had caused.
“Even today,” he said, “after being found guilty by a jury of five counts, after hearing a judge today call out his conduct as reprehensible, he stood when even stood up in the courtroom and insisted he was never going to admit or accept any responsibility for what he did.