Things just became a whole lot worse for Jussie Smollett after a Chicago grand jury indicted the embattled “Empire” star on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to police about being attacked by two men in what he described as a hate crime.
According to Chicago’s ABC 7 News, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed the indictment, which was reportedly returned by the grand jury on Thursday.
This complicates Smollett’s legal situation significantly; he was originally charged on Feb. 20 with one felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, but now faces 16 counts.
The grand jury returned two separate sets of charges, reports ABC 7 News, with the first set of charges related to the initial report Smollett made to police when he told officers that his alleged attackers called him racial and homophobic slurs, struck him with their fists, placed a noose around his neck and poured a chemical liquid on him.
The second set of charges are related to Smollett’s second interview with police, which took place later that same day.
The new set of charges each carry a potential sentence of probation to four years in prison; if he were to convicted on all counts, Smollett could face a maximum sentence of up to 48 years.
Smollett has already pleaded not guilty to the first disorderly conduct charge, and was taken into custody; he is currently free on $100,000 bond.
“Experts believe it is likely he will strike a plea deal and potentially not spend time in prison,” reports the Chicago news outlet.
Following the indictments, Chicago PD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi issued a statement via Twitter, noting that the “allegations against Mr. Smollett are shameful & if proven, they are an affront to the people of Chicago who embraced him as a neighbour & respected him as a role model. We stand behind the work of detectives & refer any comment on indictment to prosecutors.”
Smollett’s lawyer Mark Geragos, however, is firing back by blasting the indictments as “redundant and vindictive,” and an example of “prosecutorial overkill” in order to distract from the Chicago PD’s internal investigation into leaks of information regarding the case.
“The fact of an indictment was not unexpected,” said Geragos, as reported by Deadline. “We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination.”
He added: “What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie. 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 lawyer asserted. “Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”
Smollett is due to return to court on March 14.