Disgraced Empire actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced to 150 days jail for “selfishly, arrogantly and narcissistically” staging a hate crime hoax that a judge said had “destroyed his life” and was designed solely to satisfy his “craving” for attention.
After the sentence was passed, an emotional Smollett stood and repeatedly said: “I am not suicidal, I am not suicidal.”
He continued: “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 LGBTQ community.
“Your honour, I respect you and I respect the jury, but I did not do this, and I am not suicidal, and if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself, and you must all know that.”
Smollett was also sentenced to 30 months’ probation and ordered to pay $120,106 (£91,700) in restitution and $25,000 (£19,000) in fines.
The 39-year-old had claimed he was attacked in downtown Chicago in the early hours of 29 January 2019 by masked, homophobic MAGA supporters, in a case that made headlines around the world.
“You’re just a charlatan pretending to be the victim of a hate crime, and that’s shameful,” Judge James Linn said, adding the actor had “thrown a national pity party for himself”.
He said Smollett was earning $2m a year when he staged the fake hate crime, and the only reason he could find for it was that Smollett “craved the attention”.
“You were so invested in social justice... [that] you took some scabs off some healing wounds... and it worked,” he said.
“You have done some real damage.”
Smollett has always maintained his innocence of staging the crime, but was found guilty at trial in December of five out of six felony counts of disorderly conduct.
Judge Linn continued: “There’s nothing that I will do here today that can come close to the damage you’ve already done to your own life.
“You’ve turned your life upside down by your misconduct and your shenanigans.
“You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it and there’s nothing that any sentencing judge can do to you that can compare to the damage you’ve caused yourself.”
Smollett looked directly at the judge as he delivered his lengthy address, showing no emotion.
“You’re the butt of jokes. Comedians, late night TV hosts, they make fun of you,” the judge said.
“I don’t think there is anything funny at all about hoaxing ... racial hate crimes.”
During Thursday’s hearing at Cook County Circuit court, the court heard character witnesses from prominent actors, civil rights leaders and Smollett’s family asking for leniency.
A letter from Rev Jessie Jackson read out to the court said Smollett had “already suffered enough”, and said he stood ready to help with the actor’s “journey to atonement”.
“He has been excoriated and vilified in the court of public opinion. His professional reputation has been severely damaged.”
Samuel L Jackson and his wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, neither of whom were present in court, wrote that they had known Smollett since he was a young child.
“We have often broken bread with this young man as we discussed the right and wrong ways to live,” the letter, which was read out in court by a friend, said.
“Jussie comes from a good family whom we are proud to know intimately and who we know stand ready to provide the support and monitoring assistance that they can provide for him in an alternative probation scenario.”
Earlier, defence lawyer Tina Glandian again insisted Smollett had been attacked during a near hour-long address to the court as she called for the charges against him to be dismissed.
Ms Glandian also claimed the two brothers who a jury found were paid to stage the attack, Abel and Ola Osundairo, should have been charged as accomplices.
Special prosecutor Sean Wieber responded by saying the trial had “overwhelmingly established Mr Smollett’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt”.
Mr Wieber said Smollett had tried to blame the media, Covid-19, the judge, the jury, and “the entire Cook County judicial system” while ignoring the “plethora of evidence” against him.
Judge James Linn dismissed the defence claims that the two brothers should’ve been charged as accomplices.
“We have to remember why we are here,” the judge said.
“Everything about what happened between he and the brothers, the plan that the jury found happened, the scheme to meet on the street and pretend to beat him and call him names ... none of that’s a crime.
“Because Mr Smollett was not only consenting to it, he had orchestrated it, according to the evidence, there is nothing you could find the brothers guilty of.
“The only crime that was at play in this entire scenario was the police report.”
In a lengthy address to the court, Judge Linn said he said he was not sentencing Smollett based on public sentiment.
“I am mindful that there is acute public interest in this case,” he said.
“People are watching, people seem to care passionately for a variety of reasons about this case.
“This is not for the public. The sentence handed down today is specifically for Mr Smollett.”
In an unusual move, a victim impact statement on behalf of the entire city of Chicago was read out by special prosecutor Samuel Mendenhall.
“The city is a victim of Mr Smollett’s crime, because his false report cost CPD to expend scarce resources that could have been devoted to solving actual crimes, increasing public safety,” Mr Mendenhall said.
Prosecutors called for Smollett to pay back $130,106 the city had spent thousands of hours on investigating the hoax during an extremely cold weather event described as a “polar vortex”.
Empire music supervisor Richard Daniels was one of several supporters to give character witnesses on behalf of Smollett.
Mr Daniels said he had seen the actor’s selfless actions in donating his money and time to charitable causes.
Recalling a surprise visit to a public school in Chicago, Mr Daniels said: “The impact he had as a celebrity and as this loving wonderful young man was really quite something.”
He described Smollett as a man who was aware of his good fortune to star in a popular TV show.
“He knew he was a lucky young man,” he said.
“Jussie had an appreciation for that, what he was given was a game-changer for Chicago.”
Jussie’s older brother Jocqui Smollett said he “strongly believed in his brother’s innocence” and called for leniency.
He said Jussie’s career was “ripped away from him”, even before he was tried, as the court of public opinion had decided he was guilty.
“For the last three years, he has had to live in anxiety and in a certain kind of house arrest.”
Jussie appeared to wipe a tear away as his 92-year-old grandmother Molly Smollett took to the witness box to deliver an emotional statement.
“Jussie is loved and respected by all who know him, and I ask the judge not to send him to prison, if you do, send me along with him,” Ms Smollett said.
She chastised the media for not investigating the case properly.
The court heard Smollett had donated $500,000 to non-profit organisations and devoted countless hours of his own time to helping others.
Smollett had faced a maximum of up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — the charge filed for lying to police — of which he was convicted.
But his lack of an extensive criminal history and the fact the conviction was for a low-level nonviolent crime always made a sentence of probation more likely, legal experts said.
In December, Smollett was convicted at trial after two brothers testified the actor paid them $3,500 (£2,600) to carry out the attack, gave them money for the ski masks and rope, instructed them to fashion the rope into a noose and then told them exactly what to shout when they carried out the fake attack.
Police arrested the actor a month later, saying he paid the two brothers to stage the attack in an effort to raise his show-business profile. He eventually pleaded not guilty to six counts of felony disorderly conduct.
Smollett, who knew the men from his work on the television show Empire that filmed in Chicago, testified that he did not recognise them.