Jussie Smollett appeared in court today to formally enter a plea of "not guilty" to multiple felony charges against him. The Empire actor is charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging a physical assault which supposedly took place on January 29. Smollett was arrested on February 21 as investigators uncovered evidence implicating the actor's role in the crime. Out on $100,000 bail, Smollett is looking at more than three years in prison and a $25,000 fine for each count if the court finds him guilty. As he awaits trial, Judge Steven Watkins altered Smollett's travel restrictions today as well, which will allow Smollett to travel to Los Angeles and New York freely to meet with his attorneys.
When Jussie Smollett initially reported the crime in January, he told police he had been physically assaulted by two men. According to the TV star, the men threw bleach on him and tried to tie a noose around his neck. Police found the story suspicious, though Fox had publicly made it clear they were standing behind Smollett. As the investigation continued, things began to look worse for Smollett as officers started to reveal some of the evidence they'd uncovered. Despite the collective doubt over his story, however, Smollett would firmly maintain that he was being completely honest.
Officers got their first break by locating the two other men alleged to have beaten Smollett. Both men, a pair of brothers, had ties to Smollett and had even worked on Empire. The brothers are now cooperating with authorities by providing them with evidence against Smollett. This includes a series of text messages discussing details of the hoax, such as Smollett insisting they use MAGA hats and chants while perpetrating the phony attack. Also presented was a check signed by Smollett paid to the brothers, which they claim was payment for helping the actor plan the alleged hoax. Still, even in light of the evidence building in the case against him, Smollett has not changed his story.
Smollett's performance as Jamal Lyon on Empire has earned the actor praise from critics and viewers alike. He has been a vital part of the series, and was even featured prominently on Wednesday's episode which had already been filmed. However, due to the scandal, Fox had Smollett's character written out of the final two episodes of the season, and his future on the series remains uncertain. Considering the backlash from fans upset over Smollett allegedly staging his own assault, there are rumors the character will be killed off to remove him from the show for good. Potentially, the role could be recast as well, but this seems less likely than simply writing him out completely.
Things seem rather grim for Smollett's future, both legally and professionally. Despite his insistence that he's innocent, it seems most people aren't buying his version of the story. Next, the matter will be officially settled by a judge. We'll have to see what happens, but things certainly don't look good for the (probably former) Empire star. Smollett returns to court on April 17. This information comes to us from Deadline.