Jussie Smollett Goes to Jail

Jussie Smollett arrives to the Leighton Criminal Court House flanked by family members in advance of his sentencing hearing on March 10, 2022. (Credit Image: © Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune / TNS via ZUMA Press Wire)

Hate crime hoaxer Jussie Smollett was sentenced on March 10 in Cook County, Illinois. The actor and musician had been found guilty of five counts of felony disorderly conduct for staging a hate crime hoax and lying to police. Details of the trial are here.

The sentencing hearing lasted more than five hours, which would be long even for a very serious crime. Mr. Smollett’s all-black defense team spent most of the time introducing pleas for leniency. Family members, organizations, and his showbiz friends tried to convince veteran white Judge James Linn to go easy.

Molly Smollett, the defendant’s 92-year-old white paternal grandmother, spoke. The retired film editor said, “The Jussie I know and love does not match up with the media’s betrayal of him.” She looked right into the cameras. “And I’m talking to you guys. You haven’t done a good job on the investigative reporting. I’ve worked on documentaries; I know what it is. I’ve gone through the McCarthy period; I’ve marched with Martin Luther King in the march on Washington, and I’m here now.” She called her grandson a “justice warrior.”

Mr. Smollett, who had been defiant up to that point, wiped his eyes. His grandmother asked the judge not to send him to prison, adding, “And if you do, send me along with him.” Mr. Smollett blew her kisses.

Judge Linn received many letters asking for leniency, in what was clearly an overwhelmingly black campaign to get mercy for a fellow black. Letters from the NAACP, Rainbow Push Coalition, Illinois Innocence Project, and from black actress Alfie Woodward were all read in court. The wife of actor Samuel L. Jackson wrote that the Smollett family were her neighbors in New York City. “It is incredulous [sic] to Sam and to me that this entire criminal situation even exists,” Mrs. Jackson wrote.

Judge James Linn speaks during a sentencing hearing for actor Jussie Smollett on Thursday, March 10, 2022, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. (Credit Image: © Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune / TNS via ZUMA Press Wire)

A representative from Black Lives Matter wrote about Mr. Smollett’s charitable contributions, mentioning that he gave more than half a million dollars to “black organizations,” such as the Black AIDS Institute, the Trayvon Martin Foundation, Know Your Rights camp, and LGBT organizations.

Mr. Smollett’s defense lawyer, Nenye Uche, said organizations volunteered to supervise Mr. Smollett during his probation, so he would be well looked after and therefore need not go to jail. “People are watching this case,” Mr. Uche said, “Minorities, black people. I’ve gotten so many letters!”

Mr. Uche referred to a letter from a woman who complained that a police officer who shoots a young man 16 times gets out of jail, but Mr. Smollett is supposed to go to jail. “People think there’s a double standard, and there is!” Mr. Uche said.

Judge Linn spent 30 minutes explaining his reasoning. First, he complained that the case had had as many pretrial motions as a death penalty case. He also said he was acting entirely on his own: “Let me be clear. The sentence that I put down today is not in any way shape or form to assuage any public sentiment . . . . I am listening to things that were brought to me in court.”

Judge Linn had a lot to say about Mr. Smollett. “Let me tell you Mr. Smollett,” he said, “that I know that there is nothing I can do here today that will come close to the damage you have already done to your own life. You’ve turned your life upside down by your misconduct and shenanigans. You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it. And there’s nothing that any sentencing judge can do to you that can compare to the damage you’ve already caused yourself.”

He continued: “I know that Jussie Smollett grew up, knowing to be sensitive to matters about racial discrimination. . . . He’s been doing this all his life. He doesn’t just talk the talk, he’s walking the walk. . . . He cares deeply about social justice issues. And for you now to sit here, convicted of hoaxing hate crimes, racial hate crimes and homophobic hate crimes – the hypocrisy is just astounding.”

There was a moment from Mr. Smollett’s trial that the judge said would always stick in his mind:

“Something happened in this trial that was remarkable, and talks about your sensitivity to social justice. You’re on the witness stand; you’re being cross examined; your liberty is at stake; it is your criminal trial. Mr. Webb is winding through some things on cross examination and he’s going through some social media communications . . . . Mr. Webb found a line that he wanted to confront you with. He said, “Didn’t you say,” and he used a word starting with the letter ‘N,’ “Meet me at this place, this time,” and I’m paraphrasing. And rather than just answer the question, which is what a witness is supposed to do, what a witness is expected to do in a criminal trial, you stopped the proceedings. You said, “Mr. Webb, out of respect for all of the African American people in this court room, you should not be using that word.”

I was amazed. But that showed . . . how sensitive you were to any kind of slight. The wrong words come out of somebody else’s mouth, you’re going to get up and speak up and complain about it, and make sure that they know that they’re not behaving the way you’re supposed to behave. So, you know better than anybody else that these are serious matters. They’re serious to you. They’re clearly serious to you and your whole family. And for you to be here now, convicted of these hate crimes, it’s just astonishing.

The judge corrected himself: “Faking hate crimes.”

Judge Linn clearly bought the idea that Mr. Smollett is a fighter for racial justice, and wondered aloud about the motive for this crime:

There’s some conjecture that you did it for the money. Frankly, I do not believe that you did it for the money. You were making, the evidence showed, close to two million dollars a year when this happened. I don’t think money motivated you at all. The only thing I can fathom is that you really craved the attention, and you wanted to get the attention, and you were so invested in issues of social justice that you knew that this was a sore spot for everybody in this country. You knew that this was a country that was slowly trying to heal past injustices and current injustices, and trying to make a better future for each other. . . . And you took some scabs off some healing wounds and you ripped them apart for one reason. You wanted to make yourself more famous. And for a while, it worked. Everybody was talking about you. The lights were on you. You were actually throwing a national pity party for yourself. Why would you do such a thing? I understand, you crave the attention so much. But why would you betray something like social justice issues which you care so much about? The only thing I can conclude is that – and I acknowledge, there are wonderful sides to you. There are very giving and charitable and loving sides to you. But you have another side to you that is profoundly arrogant, and selfish and narcissistic.

The judge talked about how stressful it is to be a crime victim, and said that when a crime victim finds out the motivation was hatred for his race, that adds to the stress. “There is nothing worse than to be the victim of a hate crime. It is the worst thing that can happen in our country, especially with all our history and all that we’re going through now to try to get around some of these issues. Hate crimes are the absolute worst. And I believe that you did damage to hate crime victims.”

The judge said real victims may be worried they will be accused of lying and that police may now have trouble believing hate crime victims.

“You premeditated this case to an extreme that is amazing,” the judge added. “You wrote a script. The script involved words. You’re going to encounter me on the street. Yell out, ‘Empire! N-word, F-word.’ You’re going to hit me; you’re going to beat me up; you’re going to put bleach on me. You’re going to put a noose around my neck. . . . You picked out the actors.” The judge went over how Mr. Smollett paid two men he knew from working on Empire to act out the false attack. Mr. Smollett bought props and even had rehearsals.

The judge said: “I find that your premeditation in this case is an aggravating factor,” adding, “Your very name has become an adverb for lying.”

“You’re the butt of jokes. Comedians, mainstream talk show hosts, they make jokes about you. They do sketches about you. . . . All because you’re selfish, arrogant, narcissistic. You have that side in you that came out through this case. You kept doubling down and doubling down.”

The judge said that damage to the city of Chicago was an aggravating factor, but the worst was Mr. Smollett’s behavior on the stand. “This can only be described as pure perjury. . . . You committed hour upon hour upon hour of pure perjury.”

Judge Linn scolded Mr. Smollett for the harm he had done to blacks, homosexuals, hate crime victims, and even the city of Chicago, but never mentioned the harm he had done to white people or to Americans who like to wear MAGA hats.

Judge Linn sentenced Jussie Smollett to 30 months probation, “and you will spend the first 150 days of your sentence in the Cook County jail, and that will start today. Right here, right now.” The judge also ordered Mr. Smollett to pay $120,106 in restitution to the city of Chicago and a $25,000 fine; both figures were the maximum possible. After he is out of jail but still on probation, Mr. Smollett will be able to travel wherever he wants; he will not be required to live in Illinois and will be allowed to report to his probation officer by phone. The judge decided this because he knew Mr. Smollett may need to go to New York or Los Angeles for work.

The judge asked Mr. Smollett if he had any questions. The convicted hate crime hoaxer pulled down his mask. “I just want to say, Your Honor, that I am not suicidal. That’s what I would like to say. I am not suicidal.” He became agitated. “I am not suicidal! I am innocent! And I am not suicidal. 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 LGBTQ community. Your Honor, I respect you, I respect the jury. But I did not do this, 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. I respect you, Your Honor, I respect your decision. Jail time . . . .”

As the deputy Sheriff led him away, Mr. Smollett’s family stood in the gallery, raising their fists. Mr. Smollett raised his fist, saying, “I am not suicidal! I am not suicidal! And I am innocent! I could have said that I was guilty a long time ago!” Here is how the trial ended:

Jussie Smollett’s brother, Joel Smollett, Jr., was “very disappointed” by the sentence:

I spoke specifically today to the judge and I asked for leniency. I did not expect him to be completely lenient, and listen, but at the same time he shamed my brother. He spoke about his arrogance. He doesn’t know the struggles my brother is encountering. He doesn’t know anything he’s dealing with. He spent all that time shaming him. In 2022, we don’t shame people like this, all right? He basically called him a mental case, all right? If you look at that testimony, he basically reiterated and regurgitated all the prosecutor said. There was no independence. This is a duly elected judge in Cook County. He’s supposed to be elected by the people. Not just a stooge and a rubber stamp for the prosecutors.

Nenye Uche told the press the defense team strongly believes Mr. Smollett is innocent. “This sentence today calls attention to what black people in the United States have been complaining about for a long, long time,” he said. “The NAACP letter that came in to Judge Linn reminded him that black defendants convicted of a felony were more likely than white defendants to be sent to prison, 57 percent to 39 percent respectively.” Mr. Uche added that he never saw a class four felony offender get the same treatment as a violent offender, nor even a violent offender get such a high fine.

After Mr. Smollett left the courtroom, Special Prosecutor Dan Webb told the judge:

Jussie Smollett has never shown to the city of Chicago an ounce of contrition. He has never once stood up to say “I’m sorry.” He has never once stood up to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct. He has simply denied it and denied it and denied it. So again, today, after he had now been convicted by a jury on five felony counts, after he heard the judge today excoriate his conduct as being reprehensible conduct, he still stood up in the court room and insisted that he’s not ever going to admit or accept any responsibility.

At a press conference after the sentencing, Mr. Webb said that Judge Linn’s sentence was “fair and just:”

The office of the special prosecutor is extraordinarily pleased with the result today. Judge Linn in his comments, made it clear that he has accepted our office’s position that this was a very serious underlying criminal course of misconduct. And beyond just the nature of that criminal misconduct of lying to police, that the collateral consequences of what Mr. Smollett did, was to harm other gays and blacks because his conduct denigrated hate crimes. His conduct will discourage others who are the victims of hate crimes from coming forward and reporting those crimes to law enforcement and pursuing them.”

When he was asked about what Mr. Smollett shouted at the end of the sentencing, Mr. Webb said, “I’m not going to interpret the outburst . . . I don’t know exactly what he was referring to.” Clearly, he was explaining that if he were found dead in prison it will be because he was killed, not because he killed himself.

This trial has, once again, shown the extent to which blacks can believe whatever they want, no matter what the evidence.

Mr. Smollett’s sister Jazz, 41, insisted he is innocent. “What should be controversial is the entire miscarriage of justice his whole ordeal has been,” she said. Mr. Smollett’s brother Jacqui, 32, was just as adamant, calling Jussie “a complete victim.” “He was attacked and he is now going to jail for being attacked,” he said.

It is even more surprising that ever since the guilty verdict, his lawyers have said he is innocent. They may be striking a pose, but if not, race has blinded them as much as it has blinded family members. As blacks work their way further into the judicial system, this kind of racial solidarity will become an ever more dangerous threat to American justice.

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