Empire actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to 'staging racist and homophobic attack'

March 14, 2019

Empire actor Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic assault.

The 36-year-old's lawyer entered the plea on his behalf during a court appearance in Chicago.

Prosecutors allege that Smollett, who is black and openly gay, hired two men to help stage an attack on him in downtown Chicago in the early hours of 29 January.

He told detectives that two masked men beat him while hurling racist and homophobic slurs, and that they poured an unknown substance on him before hanging a noose around his neck, police say.

Officers initially investigated the incident as a hate crime but, police sources at the time were reported as saying the attack had been a hoax.

A grand jury charged Smollett on 16 felony counts relating to the filing of a false police report earlier in March. Each count carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

They came after an initial charge on 20 February, of one count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

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

He has denied staging the attack and maintains his innocence, with his lawyers previously saying that the indictment is "vindictive" and "prosecutorial overkill".

Smollett is next due to appear in court on 17 April.

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