Stunning reversal in Jussie Smollett case leaves many unanswered questions

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Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel criticized the decision to drop all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, saying the city of Chicago is owed an apology and it is a "whitewash of justice."

Posted: Mar 26, 2019 7:00 PM
Updated: Mar 26, 2019 7:00 PM

In a shocking reversal, Chicago prosecutors on Tuesday dropped all charges against actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused last month of staging a hate crime against himself and filing a false police report about it.

From the beginning the case sparked both outrage and doubt over the 36-year-old "Empire" actor's claim that he was attacked by two people shouting racial and anti-gay slurs.

Smollett told reporters Tuesday that he had been "truthful and consistent on every single level since Day One." His attorneys insisted he was indeed attacked and that misinformation led to a rush to judgment against him.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel blasted the prosecutor's decision as a "whitewash of justice," and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson accused Smollett of hiding behind a deal "brokered ... in secrecy."

The day's developments have left more questions than answers. Here are some of them:

How did this happen?

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office didn't immediately explain why the 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct were dropped, except to say the decision came after reviewing the case's facts -- and in view of Smollett's willingness to forfeit his $10,000 bond.

"After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case," the state's attorney's office said in a statement.

First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats, the lead prosecutor, said he understood that people would question dropping the charges but that thousands of cases have similar resolutions.

Magats said the charges would not have been dropped without the bond forfeiture and the community service factor. He added that Smollett had no prior felonies and wasn't a danger to the community. When asked whether he considered Smollett to be innocent, the prosecutor told CNN affiliate WLS: "No."

"He was prosecuted. It may not have been the disposition that everybody thought would occur," Magats told WLS. "He did do community service. He did forfeit $10,000. It's a fair and just disposition in the case."

CNN has sought comment from Magats and the state's attorney's office.

What did Smollett have to say about it?

After a brief appearance in a Chicago courtroom, Smollett told reporters he was grateful to those who stood by him and that he wouldn't have put his family "through a fire like this" for a lie.

"I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since Day One," he said in a short statement. "I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I've been accused of."

His comments came weeks after he was indicted by a grand jury. Smollett had pleaded not guilty and denied any involvement in orchestrating an attack.

Smollett called himself a "man of faith." He vowed to "continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."

Emanuel and Johnson spoke at a news conference later, reacting angrily to the latest developments.

"From top to bottom, this is not on the level. You have a person using hate crime laws that are on the books" to promote himself, Emanuel said. "Is there no decency in this man?"

Johnson said, "If you want to say you're innocent of the situation, you take your day in court. ... I would never hide behind a brokered deal in secrecy, period."

The superintendent said police learned about the dropped charges when the news was made public.

Are the perpetrators of the attack still out there?

Smollett's attorneys maintain that he was indeed attacked in Chicago on January 29.

The actor reported to police that two men assaulted him near the lower entrance of a Loews hotel around 2 a.m. as he was walking back from getting something to eat.

Smollett, who plays a gay character on the Fox drama, said the attackers yelled, " 'Empire' fa***t'" and " 'Empire' n***er," while striking him, police said. The incident ended with a noose around his neck and bleach poured on him, police said.

The actor also said one of the men shouted, "This is MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, according to police.

Police initially investigated the case as a possible hate crime.

After police detained and interviewed two brothers described as "persons of interest" in the case in mid-February, Johnson said authorities suspected Smollett knew the men and allegedly paid them to stage the attack.

Police said the brothers attacked Smollett at the actor's direction. The men were released without being charged.

On Tuesday, Smollett attorney Patricia Brown Holmes insisted the brothers -- who she said were the actor's fitness trainers -- were the attackers.

"The two brothers have said that they attacked him," she said. "(But) we don't want to try them in the press any more than" Smollett wanted to be, she said.

What happens to the brothers?

Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo have expressed "tremendous regret" for their involvement in what the police called a staged attack.

"They understand how it has impacted people across the nation, particularly minority communities and especially those who have been victims of hate crimes themselves," Gloria Schmidt, an attorney for the brothers, said earlier this month.

Police alleged that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack.

Investigators believe Smollett orchestrated the attack "because he was dissatisfied with his salary," Johnson said, citing information that the brothers gave to police.

The brothers cooperated fully with the investigation and were no longer suspects, Chicago police said. They were released without charges after being arrested last month.

Why did Smollett forfeit his bond?

It may have been a strategic move.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office cited Smollett's agreement to forfeit his bond as a factor in explaining why the charges were dropped.

But Emanuel told reporters that the $10,000 bond "doesn't even come close" to what the city spent investigating the alleged attack.

Could the case be unsealed?

Parts of the case have been sealed, one of Smollett's attorneys said.

Holmes did not provide details about the order, only saying that the state dropped the charges and moved to "seal the record in this case."

Whether or not all the case files remain sealed, we may never know what actually happened.

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