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Actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to restored charges

Don Babwin
Associated Press

Chicago – Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Monday to restored charges that accuse him of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself last year in Chicago and then falsely reporting to that the phony attack was real.

A somber looking Smollett, 37, entered a Cook County courthouse wearing sunglasses and sporting a beard, flanked by his legal teams and surrounded by reporters.

His lawyer, Tina Glandian, entered the not guilty pleas on his behalf to six counts of felony disorderly conduct. She also told Judge James B. Linn that she has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to halt the case.

Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of the charge in the same courthouse last year, just weeks before the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office abruptly announced it was dismissing the case, angering police and City Hall.

Special Prosecutor Dan Webb, a former U.S. attorney who was appointed to examine the state’s attorney’s office’s handling of the case, represented the state. Foxx’s office is not involved in the new case against Smollett.

Smollett has repeatedly denied police allegations that he staged the attack to get attention and further his career.

Defendants typically enter not guilty pleas during initial hearings before the trial judge, who sets bond amounts that defendants must post to secure their release. Attorneys often arrange for defendants to post bond at the clerk’s office rather than be taken into custody.

Smollett, who is black and gay, told police that two masked men attacked him as he was walking home in the early hours of Jan. 29, 2019. He said they made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing, and that at least one of his attackers was a white man who told him he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Weeks later, police alleged that Smollett had paid two black friends to help stage the attack.

Among those in court to observed Monday’s proceedings were the brothers who say they were hired by Smollett to participate in the staged attack, Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo. If Smollett’s case makes it to trial, they would be the state’s star witnesses.

Smollett has maintained his innocence, telling reporters after the charges were dropped last year that, “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of.”

His attorney, Glandian, questioned the integrity of special prosecutor’s investigation after the new charges were announced this month, pointing out that Webb’s probe relied on the same detectives who were part of the original investigation despite pending civil claims that Smollett is pursuing against the city and police for malicious prosecution.

Foxx’s handling of the case, meanwhile, has become a key issue in her bid for re-election, with her opponents accusing her of having acted haphazardly and indecisively.

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Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.