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'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty

14 March 2019

A judge is expected to be assigned to Jussie Smollett's disorderly conduct case when the Empire actor returns to a Chicago court Thursday, just days after lawyers on both sides agreed that cameras would be allowed in the courtroom.

Jussie Smollett arrives in sunglasses at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for his hearing Thursday in Chicago. Some of his relatives sat in the court's overflow gallery near a handful of fans, some wearing "Empire" shirts.

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A Cook County grand jury indictment, made public on Friday, charged Smollett with disorderly conduct for each crime he said he had suffered, with separate counts related to statements he made the night of January 29 to a police officer, and then for repeating the same account to a detective the same night. If convicted, the "Empire" star could face three years in prison, though it is also possible he would be sentenced to probation.

Smollett and his lawyers declined to comment as they left the courthouse. Smollett has maintained his innocence, and one of his lawyers called the 16-count indictment "redundant and vindictive" in a statement to The Washington Post. They say Smollett was unhappy about his salary and wanted to drum up publicity to help his career.

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Police initially arrested the brothers on February 13, after they were recognized from surveillance footage from near the scene of the alleged attack. Prosecutors said one had supplied Smollett with "designer drugs" in the past. After being picked up by police, the brothers confessed their involvement and became cooperating witnesses. They became cooperating witnesses and were released without charges. Soon after the alleged incident was made public, police confirmed that the FBI would be assisting in the investigation and that Smollett had earlier received a threatening letter at the Chicago studio where the Fox drama is filmed.

In a "Good Morning America" interview last month, Smollett said he was angry some people questioned his story and suggested racial bias may be behind the disbelief. At today's hearing, Judge Watkins gave a slight expansion to Smollett's travel restrictions.

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'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty