Jussie Smollett entered into a not-guilty plea on Thursday morning in regards to charges of disorderly conduct and lying to police after filing reports stating he was the victim of a January hate crime incident.
His plea comes just a week after a grand jury indicted the actor on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct related to this incident.
The actor will now battle these charges in court over the next few months, and will be allowed to travel between New York City and Los Angeles where his lawyers are based without permission of the court.
Smollett, who was arrested February 20 by Chicago police, has been unwavering in his innocence even as public opinion has swayed from support of the actor to abandonment. And his lawyers have only dug their heels in as the case continues, with the local authorities confident that he will be found guilty.
"What is unexpected however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie," said Smollett's lawyers after being indicted and reports of an internal police investigation were announced relating to potential false leaks from the department in the case.
"This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie's privacy in tampering with his medical records," the lawyers continued.
The Empire star — who came out on Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show in 2015 — told police that he was stopped around 2 a.m. on January 29 in downtown Chicago by two men wearing ski masks and yelling racial and homophobic slurs. The individuals then reportedly placed a noose around Smollett’s neck, punched him, and poured an unknown substance on his body.
"This is MAGA country," the men then yelled, according to interviews conducted by the Chicago police with the actor. Smollett’s manager has told police he heard this language among racial and homophobic slurs.
A video of Smollett with a rope around his neck returning to his building after the reported incident has been recovered by the police but has yet to be released. Local police say they will not release this footage until the investigation ins finished.
The actor soon after told Good Morning America that he stands by his story and was frustrated at criticism that he was lying. Smollett also said the men in a blurry photo released by police were the people who attacked him. However, police identified the subjects of the video as the two brothers, Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, who are friends with Smollett and even serve as personal trainers to the actor.
These men were able to produce evidence that "changed the trajectory" of the case, and led to police filing charges against Smollett.
At an explosive press briefing in February, Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said authorities believe Smollett faked a threatening letter and then a hate crime against himself because he was "dissatisfied with his salary" on the Fox musical drama.
Johnson outlined how police believe Smollett hired two brothers to stage an attack for $3,500. The brothers, wearing gloves, punched Smollett "a little bit," Johnson said, but police believe that the scratches on Smollett's face were self-inflicted.
Johnson, who is African-American, declared that Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I'm left hanging my head and asking why."