Friday, March 08, 2019

Exclusive: Grand jury returns 16 felony counts against Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett | Chicago Police Department
Embattled TV star Jussie Smollett's legal problems have just become significantly more serious as a Cook County grand jury has returned a 16-count true bill of charges against him in connection with his alleged falsification of a hate crime in Streeterville in late January.

Smollet was charged with a single count of felony disorderly conduct-false report last month based on allegations brought by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

But, CWBChicago has learned that a grand jury has now returned a total of 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct-false report against the former star of Empire on Fox. 

The grand jury's true bill states that Smollett lied about the attack to two separate police officers--the beat cop who took his initial report and a detective who conducted a follow-up interview the same day.

In one set of charges, the grand jury found that Smollet filed a false police report around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29th in which he told an officer that he was attacked near 341 East Lower North Water Street by two unknown men who were dressed in black and one of whom wore a ski mask. The jury further found that Smollett told the original officer that the attackers called him racial and homophobic slurs and struck him in the face with their hands. The police report connected to these charges also indicate that Smollett claimed that a noose had been placed around his neck and a "chemical" had been poured on him.

The second set of charges returned by the grand jury involves Smollett's alleged false reporting of the incident to a police detective later the same day. Additional details that Smollett apparently included in the second interview include: the men approached him from behind, Smollett fought back, and all three men fell to the ground where Smollett said he was kicked in the back and felt someone pulling on his neck. During this interview, Smollett also told the officer that one offender was a white male wearing a black mask with an open area around the eyes that exposed the attacker's skin, the grand jury found.

While announcing the initial charge against Smollett last month, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his department believed that Smollett was also responsible for mailing a threat letter to himself that set the stage for the purported hate crime. Nonetheless, no state charges were brought against Smollett in connection with the letter by the grand jury. The letter has been under investigation by federal authorities including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI.

The new charges against Smollett each carry a potential sentence of probation to three years if convicted. Realistically, though, Smollett is unlikely to be convicted on more than a fraction of the charges. Most Cook County criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains in which a defendant pleads guilty to one and, rarely, two counts of an indictment in return for a favorable sentence. Only by going to trial do most defendants run the real risk of being convicted of more than one or two counts. Even in the worst case scenario of conviction on multiple counts, any jail sentences would almost certainly be ordered served concurrently. 

National news outlets have been reporting since Smollett's arrest that he had already been "indicted" by a grand jury. As CWBChicago has repeatedly reported, those outlets were incorrect. Shortly before Smollett's arrest, a grand jury was convened in a so-called "John Doe case," a legal maneuver that is designed to lock in the testimony of key witnesses under oath to minimize the risk of that testimony changing later and to preserve the testimony should a witness go missing.

Smollett's attorneys are due back in court next week.
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CWBChicago's previous reporting in the Jussie Smollett case may be found here.
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