Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct

Jussie Smollett continues to maintain his innocence.

Wearing a navy dress coat and suit, the embattled Empire star entered a Chicago court on Thursday, where he pleaded not guilty to charges of filing a false police report. According to a tweet from Chicago’s CBS affiliate, Smollett will be allowed to travel to New York and Los Angeles without asking the court permission as he awaits trial.

Smollett is due back in front of a judge for a hearing on Apr. 17. On Tuesday, a lawyer for the actor said that she would “welcome cameras in the courtroom” during a trial “so that the public and the media can see the actual evidence and what we believe is the lack of evidence against Mr. Smollett and we look forward to complete transparency and the truth coming out.”

In February, Smollett was charged with a felony of disorderly conduct and was released on $100,000 bail. On Friday, a grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct — one for each supposed lie he told police — for allegedly staging his own hate crime. Each count carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The actor’s attorney Mark Geragos called the indictment “vindictive” and “prosecutorial overkill.”

Prosecutors claim Smollett, who is black and gay, paid two brothers with whom he was acquainted, to carry out a racial and homophobic attack, hoping the incident would advance his career and secure him a higher salary on Empire. After being picked up by police, the brothers confessed their involvement and became cooperating witnesses. Smollett has denied the attack was a hoax.

Jussie Smollett arrives at Leighton Criminal Courthouse on March 14, 2019 in Chicago, Ill. (Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

Chicago Police have opened an internal investigation into media leaks in the case, something Smollett’s legal team will likely use in court.

“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense,” Smollett’s attorneys said in February.

Another key piece of evidence that will be scrutinized is the $3,500 check Smollett wrote the Osundairo brothers. Chicago police say the money was for the staged attack, while Smollett claims it was for a five-week nutrition and workout program, as noted in the check’s memo. A lawyer for the brothers, Gloria Schmidt, claims it was for both.

“The idea of them getting paid by Jussie for the training actually occurred before…this Jan. 29 thing happened. When he went to pay them was when he [asked] for this favor. So it’s like a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, ‘Can you do this for me?’” Schmidt said. “‘Here’s payment for the other thing we talked about.’”

Smollett returned to the small screen Thursday night on Empire, but his future on the Fox show remains up in the air.

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