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Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at court for his arraignment in Chicago
Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at court for his arraignment on renewed felony charges in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Feb. 24, 2020. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/REUTERS

Jussie Smollett faces sentencing for staged attack conviction

CHICAGO — Actor Jussie Smollett returned to court on Thursday, where he will learn if a judge will order him locked up for his conviction of lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack that he orchestrated himself or allow him to remain free.

Smollett arrived at the Cook County Courthouse Thursday afternoon, flanked by family members and his attorneys. At the hearing, his defense team first sought to have the jury's verdict overturned on legal grounds.

Defense attorney Tina Glandian said legal errors predate the trial and argued that a county judge did not have the legal authority to permit a second prosecution of Smollett led by special prosecutors after Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office dropped all charges against him. But judges rarely grant such motions.

READ MORE: Jussie Smollett convicted of staging attack, lying to police

Sean Wieber, a member of the special prosecution team, said in his response to the motion that the evidence "overwhelmingly established Mr. Smollett's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Smollett, who is expected to continue to deny his role in the staged attack in January 2019, faces up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — the charge filed for lying to police — of which he was convicted. He was acquitted on a sixth count.

But because Smollett does not have an extensive criminal history and the conviction is for a low-level nonviolent crime, experts do not expect that he will be sent to prison. The actor could be ordered to serve up to a year in county jail or, if Cook County Judge James Linn chooses, be placed on probation and ordered to perform some kind of community service.

The sheer size and scope of the police investigation was a major part of the trial and is key in a $130,000 pending lawsuit that the city filed against Smollett to recover the cost of police overtime, so the judge also could order the actor to pay a hefty fine and restitution.

Thursday's sentencing could be the final chapter in a criminal case, subject to appeal, that made international headlines when Smollett, who is Black and gay, reported to police that two men wearing ski masks beat him, and hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him on a dark Chicago street and ran off.

READ MORE: Defense rests at Jussie Smollett's trial

In December, Smollett was convicted in a trial that included the testimony of two brothers who told jurors Smollett paid them to carry out the attack, gave them money for the ski masks and rope, instructed them to fashion the rope into a noose. Prosecutors said he told them what racist and homophobic slurs to shout, and to yell that Smollett was in "MAGA Country," a reference to the campaign slogan of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Smollett, who knew the men from his work on the television show "Empire" that filmed in Chicago, testified that he did not recognize them and did not know they were the men attacking him.

During the hearing, prosecutors and Smollett's attorneys will get a chance to present witnesses and allow Smollett to make a statement. He could repeat some of the things he told jurors during the trial about how he was simply a victim of a violent crime.

Smollett could also tell the judge as he told jurors about his extensive history of volunteering and donating to charitable causes. And he could say that the fact that the case left his career in shambles is punishment enough for him avoid custody.

Unlike the trial, Linn has agreed to let photographers and a television camera inside court for the hearing — meaning the public will for the first time get to see and hear Smollett speak in court.

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