CHICAGO (AP) — Jussie Smollett was released from jail on Wednesday by an appeals court that agreed with his attorneys that he should be free pending appeal of his conviction for lying to Chicago police about a racist and homophobic attack.
The decision came after a Cook County judge Smollett sentenced last week to immediately begin serving 150 days in prison for his conviction on five counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police. His lawyers have scheduled a press conference around his expected release on Wednesday evening.
In an outburst immediately after sentencing, the former ‘Empire’ TV star claimed his innocence and said, “I’m not suicidal. What if anything happens to me when I walk in there -in it, I don’t do it myself. And you all should know that.
The appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, said Smollett could be released after posting a $150,000 personal bond, meaning he doesn’t have to post any money but agrees to stand appear in court if necessary.
Smollett’s attorneys had argued that he would have served his sentence at the end of the appeal process and that Smollett could be in danger of physical harm if he remained locked up in the Cook County Jail.
The special prosecutor’s office called the allegation that Smollett’s health and safety was at risk “factually incorrect,” in a response to the motion, noting that Smollett was detained in custody in jail. Smollett was being held in his own cell and was being watched by security cameras and an officer, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said after he began serving his sentence last week.
Assistant Special Prosecutor Sean Wieber also questioned the idea of releasing Smollett because his sentence will be finished before an appeals court decision, saying that by that logic, anyone facing a sentence of less than a few years could stay free.
“That just isn’t and can’t be the rule,” Wieber wrote.
The court ruling marks the latest chapter in a bizarre story that began in January 2019 when Smollett, who is black and gay, reported to Chicago police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men wearing ski masks. He reported that the men assaulted him as he was walking near his home in downtown Chicago to get something to eat. One of the men, Smollett said, put a noose around his neck.
The manhunt for the attackers quickly turned into an investigation into Smollett himself and his arrest for orchestrating the attack and lying to police about it.
The investigation revealed that Smollett had paid two men he knew from his work on “Empire” to organize the attack.
A jury convicted Smollett in December of five counts of disorderly conduct – the charge laid when a person lies to police. He was acquitted on a sixth count.
Judge James Linn sentenced Smollett last week to 150 days in jail, but with good behavior he could have been freed in as little as 75 days. Smollett maintained his innocence during the trial.
Court of Appeals judges Thomas Hoffman and Joy Cunningham signed the order granting Smollett’s request for release, which noted that he had been convicted of non-violent offenses. Judge Maureen Connors dissented.
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