Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett will appear in court Thursday to hear whether he will face time in prison after being convicted in 2021 on five felony counts of lying to the police.
In January 2019, Smollett, who is Black and gay, said he had been a victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago. Two men confronted Smollett on the street, he claimed, and struck him with their hands and poured a chemical substance on him. The actor also said they tied a rope around his neck.
The incident sparked national outcry but just a few weeks into an investigation, Chicago police said they found that Smollett fabricated the incident and charge the actor with filing a false police report. Smollett faces up to three years in prison.
“Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” then Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters in February 2019. “I’m left hanging my head and asking why.”
Johnson said that Smollett paid $3,500 to stage the attack on himself and “drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud.”
In court testimony in December, Smollett maintained his story and denied any allegations that he staged a fake attack. The jury found him guilty on five counts of felony disorderly conduct, but he was acquitted of a sixth count.
Smollett is likely to speak in court on Thursday. Experts say he could bring up his work with charitable organizations and how his career has already been ruined. It remains unclear if he will stand by his words during his trial that he did not stage the attack, or if he will reverse course and say he lied to the police.
The sentencing will be the first time cameras are allowed in the courtroom during the case.