A Cook County grand jury has indicted “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.
The multiple counts highlight different aspects of Smollett’s allegedly phony story, including claims that his attackers beat him, poured a chemical substance on him and put a rope around his neck.
The indictment, made public Friday, comes a little more than two weeks after prosecutors charged Smollett with a single felony count and he was released from Cook County Jail after a friend posted his $100,000 bond. It is common for an indictment to include multiple counts of the same kind of charge for the same incident.
However, Smollett’s attorney said the new charges are overkill.
“This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines,” Mark Geragos said in a statement.
Smollett is scheduled to appear in the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday so a judge can be assigned to preside over his case and he can enter a plea to the 16 counts. A conviction on any count could lead to a sentence ranging from probation to up to three years in prison.
The actor, 36, is accused of staging a phony attack on himself, then telling police he was the victim of a hate crime.
A timeline of events in the still-evolving Jussie Smollett case in Chicago.
By Chicago Tribune staff
Mar 06, 2020 at 6:17 PM
Smollett, who is African-American and openly gay, has said he was walking from a Subway sandwich shop to his apartment in the 300 block of East North Water Street around 2 a.m. Jan. 29 when two men walked up, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hit him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Smollett said they also yelled, “This is MAGA country,” referring to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again.”
Police pieced together much of their evidence by reviewing footage from about 55 police and private surveillance cameras showing the brothers' movements before and after the attack.
The shift in the investigation came amid often bitter public debate and stinging skepticism on social media — doubts that Smollett addressed in a national TV interview and in a strongly worded statement after the brothers were released from custody after questioning by police.
A week before the alleged attack, Smollett told police he received a threatening letter at work. Witnesses told police a postal worker dropped off the letter at the Chicago studio where “Empire” is filmed. It was postmarked in southwest suburban Bedford Park on Jan. 18 and bore two American flag stamps. The letters “MAGA” were handwritten in the upper-left corner of the envelope.
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Prosecutors said Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with the studio's response to the threatening letter. Chicago police took it a step further, accusing Smollett of faking the letter as well.
The letter is the subject of a separate federal investigation.