WASHINGTON – US actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced to almost five months in prison Thursday after being found guilty of falsely telling police he was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime in 2019 – an attack prosecutors said he himself staged.
The gay 39-year-old African-American was found guilty in December of "planning" the fake assault by paying two Nigerian brothers $3,500, and of lying to police in his depositions.
"You really crave the attention and you wanted to get the attention," Chicago Judge James Linn told the former Empire star as he read out the sentence.
He said the actor had a streak that was "profoundly arrogant and selfish and narcissistic."
"This was premeditated to the extreme… You've destroyed your life as you knew it," Limn said, adding that "you did damage to real hate crimes victims."
He said Smollett was "just a charlatan, pretending to be a victim of a hate crime.".
Smollett, who was to be incarcerated Thursday evening, will have to serve the first 150 days of his sentence in prison as part of a total of 30 months on probation. He must also repay $120,106 to the Chicago Police to cover their investigation costs.
"I'm innocent, I did not do this," Smollet said as the sentence was delivered.
"I’m not suicidal, if something happens when I'm in there [in jail] I did not do it to myself," he added, before leaving the courtroom with a raised fist.
Smollett's lawyers and family had begged the judge for leniency and asked for an alternative to prison, or for a suspended sentence.
The fallen star of the hit television series Empire has always maintained his innocence.
He said he was attacked in the middle of the night on 29 January 2019 in a Chicago street by two masked men who he said they were supporters of then-president Donald Trump.
He told police they made racist and homophobic slurs against him and put a noose around his neck.
Prosecutors accused Smollett of hiring two acquaintances, brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, to stage the attack while invoking Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, after the actor had received a legitimate piece of hate mail which he felt was not taken seriously by his employers.
The case took a strange turn when Cook County prosecutors dropped the initial 16 felony counts against him in March 2019.
But he was again indicted in February 2020 by a grand jury in Cook County, which handles crimes in Chicago, on six counts of disorderly conduct related to the alleged false reporting.
The case had initially sent shock waves through a deeply divided country still plagued by racial and sexual discrimination, and the actor had immediately received support from celebrities in political and cultural circles.