Jussie Smollett finally appeals his conviction stemming from 2019 hate-crime hoax

FILE - Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, Feb. 24, 2020.
Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett is appealing his 2021 conviction. (Matt Marton / Associated Press)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Nearly a year after being sentenced to 150 days in jail for lying to police about orchestrating a hate crime against himself, former "Empire" star Jussie Smollett has officially filed to appeal his December 2021 conviction.

Attorneys for the 40-year-old actor on Wednesday filed an appellant brief and argument in Illinois 1st District Appellate Court to grant Smollett a new trial with a new judge, arguing that the trial court "committed reversible error" when processing his case and was "excessive" in its sentencing.

His lawyers, Nenye E. Uche and Heather A. Widell, argued that the renewed prosecution, a second indictment of Smollett and additional punishment violated the actor's due-process rights, in part because a "binding" non-prosecution agreement was not enforced, and that Smollett was subjected to double jeopardy. They also took issue with the controversial appointment of a special prosecutor in the case.

"If Mr. Smollett’s convictions are allowed to stand, this case will set a dangerous precedent by giving prosecutors a second bite at the apple any time there is dissatisfaction with another prosecutor’s exercise of discretion,” his attorneys wrote in the brief and argument, which was posted online on the appellate court's website.

Smollett's legal team also cited several other issues in the 102-page document, alleging that the prosecution was dismissive of the defense's questioning that sought to establish homophobia in the case, arbitrarily enforced COVID-19 protocols during the trial, dismissed Black and gay potential jurors and should not have allowed Smollett's full bombshell "Good Morning America" interview to play during jury deliberations.

Last year, Smollett, who is gay and Black, was released early from detention after serving six days of his 150-day sentence pending his appeal. His appeal was due to be filed last August, but his attorneys have been granted five extensions to that deadline, CNN reported.

After a nearly two-week trial during the pandemic, Smollett was convicted in late 2021 on charges that he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself on a frigid January 2019 night and then lied to Chicago police about it. The actor-singer maintained his innocence throughout the case and said in court testimony that “there was no hoax.”

He was found guilty on five of six counts of disorderly conduct — one count for each time he allegedly lied to police in the days immediately after he alleged the hate crime. He was acquitted on a sixth count. Smollett claimed to police that two assailants beat him, put a rope around his neck and splashed him with a liquid chemical.

Brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo were originally suspected to be the assailants; however, they claimed that Smollett, whom one of the brothers knew from work, paid them $3,500 to stage the attack.

The trial included the testimony of five Chicago Police Department officers, the Osundairo brothers and Smollett himself, as well as six of his witnesses.

Smollett wasn’t taken into custody when the verdict was returned in December 2021 but remained free until he was sentenced in March 2022. Cook County Judge James Linn called Smollett a "charlatan" who "craved the attention" during the sentencing hearing, and Smollett rejected the sentence and re-asserted his innocence.

“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 LGBT community,” Smollett said during the hearing.

“Your Honor, I respect you and I respect the jury, but I did not do this,” he added. “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.”

The jail sentence handed down was meant to be part of Smollett's first 30 months of felony probation. Linn also tacked on an order for Smollett to pay more than $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago and a maximum fine of $25,000.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.