Actor Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago
By Gina Cherelus
(Reuters) – Illinois prosecutors on Tuesday dropped charges that accused “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett of staging a phony hate crime attack to gain publicity, an incident that attracted international attention, his lawyers said.
Cook County prosecutors said in a statement that they had dropped the charges but did not make clear if anyone would be charged for the attack, in which Smollett said his assailants put a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him.
The decision, which emerged at a brief court hearing in Chicago, was the latest dizzying twist since Smollett, a gay black man who plays a gay musician on the Fox hip-hop drama, told police in January two masked men attacked him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressing support for U.S. President Donald Trump.
Prosecutors brought felony charges against Smollett after concluding he had paid his supposed attackers to stage the assault in an effort to advance his career and secure higher pay.
Smollett’s lawyers in a statement said the attack occurred as the actor described, calling him a “victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”
Smollett briefly addressed reporters after the hearing, saying, “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Smollett had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in a Chicago court on March 14.
The case garnered an outpouring of support for Smollett on social media, including from celebrities and several Democratic presidential candidates.
Two brothers were arrested after they were recognized from surveillance footage.
But prosecutors accused Smollett of writing a $3,500 check to the brothers and giving them money to buy rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps, all in an effort to use the attack’s notoriety to raise his profile.
A spokesman for 20th Century Fox Television said the network and studio did not have any immediate comment.
In a statement, Smollett’s family said he was “falsely accused.”
“He was the victim of an assault and then falsely blamed for his own attack,” the family said. “While many were quick to rush to judgment before hearing the actual truth, we are grateful that the truth about Jussie has come to light.”
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)