Empire actor Jussie Smollett stood before a Chicago criminal court on Thursday morning, where he entered a not guilty plea for allegedly orchestrating a fake hate crime to gain publicity and negotiate more screen-time on the Fox drama series. Smollett is being on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for lying to authorities and filing a false police report claiming that he had been the victim of a racist, homophobic attack.
Yet, despite the growing mountain of evidence against him, Smollett is hard-fast maintaining his innocence. The 36-year-old is still hoping that a $3,500 check he made out to Empire extras Ola and Abel Osundairo will disprove that he staged the attack, despite the brothers claims to the contrary in which they expressed regret for their part in the fiasco:
“There has been a lot of misinformation in this case that’s been presented as fact and evidence against Mr. Smollett that is demonstrably false,” his attorney Tina Glandian said after a hearing Tuesday in Chicago, as her client walked quickly past the media scrum. “We welcome cameras in the courtroom so that members of the media can see the actual evidence — and what we feel is actually going to be a lack of evidence — against Mr. Smollett. And we look forward to complete transparency and the truth coming out.”
Should Smollett be convicted, each of the 16 felony counts he’s being charged with carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
Empire producers released a statement last month that while they care about Smollett deeply, they were placing “trust in the legal system as the process plays out.” In the meantime, they have removed the character of Jamal from the final two episodes of the season to avoid further disruption on set.