Jussie Smollett, the Empire actor accused of lying to police that he was assaulted in a racist and homophobic attack, will walk free after Chicago prosecutors dropped all 16 felony charges against him.
CNN reports prosecutors and Smollett’s own legal team made the announcement overnight, signalling the end of the 36-year-old’s legal turmoil.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying the decision was made after “reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case,” but did not explain those circumstances.
Smollett agreed to forfeit his USD $10,000 bond and commit to community service, the statement said, resulting in what the Attorney’s Office called “a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
Speaking after his court hearing, Smollett maintained his innocence and thanked his supporters.
“I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of even one drop of what I’ve been accused of,” he said.
“This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life.
“But I am a man of faith, and I am a man that has knowledge of my history, and I would not bring my family, our lives, or our movement through a fire like this. I just wouldn’t.”
“This has been an incredibly difficult time”
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) March 26, 2019
Smollett alleged he was attacked on the street by two men on January 29. He stated the men shouted homophobic and racial slurs during the attack, and used the phrase “this is MAGA country,” alluding to US President Donald Trump‘s “make America great again” slogan.
The actor said the men tied a noose around his neck and poured bleach on his clothes.
But earlier this month, Smollett himself was in the custody of Chicago Police after investigators said they found evidence showing Smollett fabricated the attack by hiring two acquaintances to rough him up.
He was indicted by a grand jury on 16 felony counts, which could have netted him 50 years behind bars if he was found guilty at trial. The two other men accused of taking part in the alleged plan were released without charge.
The news of Smollett’s release has been criticised by Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who used their own press conference to question the ruling.
“He did this all in the name of self-promotion,” said a furious Emanuel, echoing fears that Smollett’s charges would make it more difficult for other victims of homophobic and racist abuse to be believed.
“This is a whitewash of justice. A grand jury could not have been clearer. Where is the accountability in the system?”
“This is a whitewash of justice,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after prosecutors dropped all charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett. “Where is the accountability in the system?” pic.twitter.com/tjUwNttoXz
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) March 26, 2019
The case was ordered sealed. It’s yet to be seen what Smollett, who was cut from Empire in February, will do from here.