Jussie Smollett returned to "Empire" set after facing felony charges, maintained innocence to castmates
ABC News(CHICAGO) — Jussie Smollett returned to the Empire set Thursday immediately after facing felony charges for allegedly staging an attack that drew national notoriety — and insisted to his castmates that he didn’t make up the story, sources told ABC News.
The plea to his fellow actors came after a whirlwind day that included Smollett surrendering to authorities for allegedly filing a false report, a mug shot and a wild media scrum that followed him from the courthouse to his vehicle.
Smollett was taken to the Empire set, where he gave a short speech in which he maintained his innocence to his castmates, sources said.
The actor also filmed scenes for the show, according to the sources.
After he was charged with felony disorderly conduct, a Chicago judge set Smollett’s bond at $100,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport.
The ruling followed a news conference during which the police department’s superintendent blasted the actor and accused him of staging an elaborate hoax that amounted to a “publicity stunt … to promote his career.”
The weeks-long investigation into the alleged hate crime attack — an account that sizzled with a spectrum of hot button issues ranging from race, sexuality and politics to crime and celebrity — riveted and distressed a deeply-divided nation.
Standing before Cook County Circuit Court Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke, Jr., Smollett appeared to remain steadfast in his refutation of the felony charge against him. As he did with his fellow actors after the hearing, Smollett has repeatedly insisted that the attack was real and that he was merely a victim, not a perpetrator.
If convicted of felony disorderly conduct for filing a false report, the actor faces up to three years in prison.
When first assistant state attorney Risa Lanier told Lyke that the actor had picked up two brothers who authorities say carried out the staged attack on him at his direction and showed them the location of where he wanted to be attacked, Smollett shook his head in disagreement.
When Lyke told Smollett that the allegations, if true, are “utterly outrageous,” the actor nodded his head in agreement — doing so again when Lyke said the noose detail would be the most despicable part of the alleged scheme.
The judge also ordered pre-trial monitoring of the actor, and ordered him to stay away from the two brothers he allegedly conspired with to stage the hoax attack, according to police.
Smollett’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 14.
The courtroom appearance followed on the heels of a morning press conference at which a visibly angry Eddie Johnson, Chicago’s police superintendent, castigated the actor for betraying his race and his city with such an incendiary false claim.
“Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” a visibly angry Johnson said. “I am left hanging my head asking ‘why?’. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? … How can an individual who’s been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in the city in the face with these false claims?”
Johnson charged that Smollett orchestrated it because he was “dissatisfied with his salary.”
Smollett’s salary on the show is in the range of $100,000 per episode, according to a source familiar with his contract.
In addition to staging the attack, officials said, Smollett also sent himself a hate-filled letter to the Fox studio where the hit show is filmed.
Smollett turned himself in at 5:15 a.m. local time and made a statement to police before being taken into custody. His lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, were not present at the time but they released a statement the night before.
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense,” the statement read.
On Thursday evening, the attorneys released a statement criticizing law enforcement’s handling of the case.
“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election,” the statement read. “Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
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