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A stern Jussie Smollett was released on $100,000 bond in a court hearing Thursday afternoon after being arrested this morning on multiple felony charges stemming from an alleged assault late last month.
With police and prosecutors insisting the Empire star staged the seemingly racist and homophobic attack against him January 29, the late-starting hearing saw a series of texts from last month between the Empire actor and brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo planning the attack being read out in court.
Those messages included preparing money to buy supplies, setting up meetings and ensuring that MAGA hats and chants were part of the assault, which occurred in the early morning hours in front of Smollett’s Chicago apartment and lasted less than a minute.
In addition, besides the previously known $3,500 check Smollett wrote the siblings, extensive details were provided outside the hearing by Assistant D.A. Ressa Lanier of the Cook County state’s attorney office. Those details include that the original plan was to pour gasoline over Smollett, not the bleach actually used, and that the attack was scheduled for January 28 but the actor was delayed in returning from NYC to Chicago.
As family members such as Underground alum Jurnee Smollett and his lawyers stood behind Smollett, the openly gay actor who plays the openly gay Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox hip-hop drama was seen shaking his head, looking around and taking a series of deep breaths as the information and more was revealed in court.
Although defense lawyers insisted Smollett needed to get back to work on Empire, the judge today seemed to care less, calling the incident “utterly outrageous” and “despicable” if the actor is found guilty.
The defense fought back, proclaiming Smollett returned to Chicago on Wednesday to face the coming charges and “wants nothing more than to clear his name.”
Smollett’s attorneys also said today that Fox has “pushed” production this week for Smollett on the series.
While scenes in the episodes currently being filmed that were to include Smollett have been cut or trimmed, sources close to the set of Empire say production is remains ongoing, even today.
In court, Smollett was wearing the same clothes he was arrested in earlier in the day. Seen as a possible fight risk, the actor was asked to surrender his passport during the hearing, which lasted just less than 20 minutes. He also was told to hand over $10,000.
If found guilty in this case, Smollett could face up to three years in jail for disorderly conduct and filing a false police report. More than likely, the prosecution and lawyers will strike a deal that will include probation, a source close to the situation told me today.
Prosecutors on Thursday noted that the actor was upset that a doctored, rage-filled letter threatening Smollett and sent to the Chicago studio did not get the attention he hoped it would, and that the assault was a Plan B to garner greater exposure. Because the letter was sent to the Chicago studio through the mail, a federal investigation is ongoing that could see further charges against Smollett.
Thought almost inconceivable mere weeks ago, the bond hearing today comes after the lawyer accompanied Smollett to turn himself in early this morning.
As the actor sat in an isolated cell, Chicago Police stepped in front of the cameras Thursday for what became a damning press conference. Highlighted by a openly “pissed”-off Superintendent Eddie Johnson , the police claimed Smollett “orchestrated this crime” and the attack last month to “promote his career” and get a pay raise by taking “advantage of the pain and anger of racism.”
There was actually little mention of such a pay raise in the courtroom this afternoon. Smollett is paid $100,000 an episode on Empire.
Not long after that scathing stint in front of the cameras, Empire‘s network and production company released its most tepid statement of support in the Smollett matter. “We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options,” 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment said Thursday morning.
Those options could see Smollett suspended or even booted off Empire just days after Fox was adamant the actor was “core” to the drama toplined by Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard.
The incident in question originally was described by Smollett as an attack that left him beaten, drenched in bleach, and with a rope slung around his neck. Previously identified by cops as “persons of interest” in the case, the Osundairo brothers are said to be “fully” cooperating with authorities. The siblings were seen Wednesday entering the criminal courtroom in downtown Chicago, where a recently convened grand jury is sitting. At the same time, subpoenas were issued to go through Smollett’s phone, financial and other records and files.
Speaking on Good Morning Americaon February 14 in his first interview after the alleged attack, Smollett said he thought he was targeted because of his high profile criticism of Donald Trump. “I come really, really hard against 45,” the actor told GMA co-host Robin Roberts at the time. “I come really, really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.”
Trump., who called the attack on Smollett “horrible” a couple of days after it occurred, today tweeted: “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments?”