CHICAGO (AFP) – A judge sentenced Josie Smollett to 150 days in prison Thursday, calling the black and gay actor an impostor for committing a hate crime against himself. As the nation struggles with the painful issues of racial injustice.
Smollett responded defiantly by insisting his innocence and noting that he could be killed in prison before being taken out of the courtroom.
The verdict and Smollett’s eruption culminated in an extended hearing and more than three years of legal drama after Smollett claimed he was the target of a racist and homophobic attack.
Smollett did not make a statement when he was offered the opportunity in the early afternoon, saying he was listening to his attorney’s advice. But after Cook County Judge James Lane issued his sentencing decision, Smollett removed the face mask he had been wearing throughout the hearing to declare his innocence.
He also insisted loudly that he had no suicidal tendencies, stating that “if anything” happened in prison, he would not commit suicide.
Smollett said as he stood at the defense table as his attorney and mayor, surrounded by representatives. “Your Majesty, I respect you and the jury but I didn’t. I’m not suicidal. And if anything happens to me when I go there, I don’t do it myself. And you all should know it.”
As the deputies led him out of the courtroom, Smollett shouted again.
He shouted as he raised his fist: “I am innocent.” “I could have said I was guilty a long time ago.”
The judge sentenced Smollett to 30 months in prison for a felony, with five months in prison, and ordered $120,106 in restitution to the City of Chicago and a $25,000 fine.
Special Prosecutor Dan Webb asked Lane to include an “appropriate amount of prison time” when sentencing the actor to five counts of disorderly conduct.
“His behavior discredited hate crimes,” Webb said after the hearing. “His behavior will discourage others who are victims of hate crimes from coming forward and reporting these crimes to law enforcement.”
Smollett’s lawyers wanted the judge to limit the punishment to community service, arguing that he had already been punished by the criminal justice system and damaged his career.
Family members echoed those comments.
“I ask you, Judge, not to send him to prison,” his grandmother, 92-year-old Molly Smollett, told the court. She later added, “If you do, send me with him, okay?”
Smollett’s attorneys also read letters aloud from other supporters, including the president of the NAACP, the Rainbow PUSH coalition, LaTanya and Samuel L.
Several supporters spoke out about concerns that Smollett would be at risk in prison, and referred specifically to his race, sexual orientation, and his family’s Jewish heritage.
Lane said he considered these requests for mercy, along with Smollett’s previous work and financial support for social justice organizations. But Lane also criticized Smollett as a narcissist and publicly expressed surprise at his actions given the actor’s multiracial background and connections to social justice work.
“The damage you’ve done to yourself is beyond anything else that can happen to you from me,” said Lynn. “You are now a permanently convicted criminal.”
Smollett’s attorney, Nene Uchi, said he will ask the prison to keep Smollett in protective custody and plans to appeal both the sentence and the judge’s sentence.
O’Che said he didn’t expect Lane to include a prison sentence, but Smollett did.
“He said, ‘Because I am a black man, no matter how successful I am, I am black,'” O’Shea told reporters after the session.
A spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said Smollett will undergo a thorough medical, mental and safety evaluation, a routine process.
Before the sentencing portion of the hearing began, Lane denied a defense request to overturn the jury’s verdict on legal grounds. Judges rarely agree to such suggestions.
Smollett faced up to three years in prison for each of the five counts of disorderly conduct – the charge of lying to the police – for which he was convicted. He was acquitted of the sixth count.
But since Smollett does not have an extensive criminal history and a conviction for a low-level nonviolent crime, experts did not expect that he would be sent to prison.
Thursday’s ruling may be the final chapter In a criminal case, appealable, made international headlines when Smollett reported to police that two men in ski masks beat him, threw racist and anti-gay insults at him on a dark Chicago street and fled.
Cook County attorney Kim Fox has also come under fire for her office’s decision to drop preliminary charges against Smollett. On Thursday, Fox launched a “relentless, organized, and effective” campaign to go after Smollett while other serious crimes were unsolved or unsolved.
“Just because we don’t like the outcome shouldn’t mean we’re bullying prosecutors and circumventing the judicial process to change it,” Fox wrote in a column in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Smollett was indicted, tried, and convicted by the Kangaroo Trial within months.”
Judicially appointed special prosecutors led the second case, and Smollett was found guilty in December. Among the witnesses at his trial were two brothers who told jurors that Smollett had paid them to carry out the attack, gave them money for ski masks and rope, and ordered them to form the rope into a gallows. Prosecutors said he told them he was yelling racist and anti-gay slurs, yelling that Smollett was in “MAGA Country,” a reference to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign slogan.
Smollett, who had known the men through his work on the TV show “Empire,” which was filmed in Chicago, testified that he did not recognize them. They did not know that they were attacking him.
In contrast to the trial, Lane agreed to let the paparazzi and a television camera into the court for the hearing – meaning that the audience was able to see and hear Smollett speaking in court for the first time.
Check out the full Associated Press coverage In the case of Josie Smollett.
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