'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to 16 charges

Tina Tchen | Sun Times files

Tina Tchen | Sun Times files

Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty to all 16 disorderly conduct charges in his alleged attack hoax case on Thursday (March 14).

Smollett arrived at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse shortly before 9 a.m., greeted by a handful of supporters holding signs reading "I Stand With Jussie" and "I Believe Jussie Smollett".

Smollett's case was assigned to Judge Steven Watkins, who told the actor he must be present and on time for every court date. Smollett looked straight ahead and never looked around. In his revision, he noted that Smollett will now be allowed to travel to Los Angeles and New York City to meet with attorneys without formally seeking the court's approval.

Smollett appeared in court in Chicago to answer the indictment, which a grand jury returned last Friday.

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Smollett also made a court appearance on Tuesday to attend a hearing on whether cameras would be allowed at his hearing today, which the judge did in fact end up allowing.The actor's legal team said they welcomed cameras as a counter to what they called misinformation being leaked to the media. In the report filed in late January, Smollett told authorities that he had been jumped while walking through downtown Chicago just past midnight.

Smollett's character was axed from the "Empire" TV show by Fox after the actor's arrest.

According to TVLine's recap, the episode, "My Fault Is Past", included a few notable parallels between Smolett and his character, Jamal.

Not much later, Chicago police revealed they had evidence pointing to the Hollywood star lying about the attack, accusing him of paying his "attackers", all so he could get more attention and score a bigger salary from Empire.

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But regardless of its intentions, many Empire fans found the line, as well as Smollett's entire story arc, hard to ignore."Jussie Smollett watching Empire right now", one user Tweeted with a crying GIF.

Smollett is now facing 16 felony counts. Details in some of those statements were different, the indictment says. Defense attorneys said the multiple counts are "redundant and vindictive".

"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", Johnson said.

Smollett has maintained that he is a victim and denied all allegations that he staged the incident.

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