Case dropped against US actor accused of hate attack hoax


Chicago (AFP)

US prosecutors dropped all charges Tuesday against television actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of fabricating a racist and homophobic hate crime.

The actor, best known for the Fox television drama "Empire," appeared in a Chicago court Tuesday and agreed to forfeit his bond as prosecutors dropped the case, according to authorities and his attorneys.

Smollett celebrated the outcome, while his attorneys and family insisted he had been a victim, not perpetrator, of a crime -- and of the authorities' rush to judgment.

"I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one," Smollett, who is black and gay, said at a brief news conference.

"This has been an incredibly difficult time," he added, "Honestly, one of the worst in my entire life."

The 36-year-old, who was out on a $100,000 bond, had denied 16 felony counts of masterminding a hoax attack in downtown Chicago to gain publicity and win a bigger paycheck.

Smollett was accused of sending himself a threatening letter and hiring two acquaintances to stage the attack, complete with homophobic and racial slurs, while invoking Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

"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 city prosecutor's office said in a statement.

- Racial divisions -

As recently as last month, authorities said they had enough evidence to back up their case against the actor.

They didn't comment Tuesday on whether they had changed their view on his culpability, or if they had simply decided that it was not in the public interest to pursue the prosecution.

Chicago police chief Eddie Johnson accused Smollett of staging the alleged hoax to tap into Americans' anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly "dissatisfied with his salary."

The actor was accused of employing brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, both of whom worked on "Empire," to carry out the plan.

His attorney Patricia Holmes acknowledged that the brothers had admitted to carrying out the attack, but she accused police of using "the press to convict people before they're tried in a court of law."

"We believe that it was the correct result in this case. We are very happy with this result," she said.

The initial news of the attack had prompted widespread sympathy for Smollett and outrage over the alleged crime.

But the star was written out of the last two episodes of this season of "Empire" -- a musical soap opera set in New York but filmed in Chicago -- amid uproar over the accusations against him.

Smollett said he wanted "nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life," while his family put out a statement saying he had been vindicated.

"Our son and brother is an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared," Smollett's family said in a statement published by the ABC Network.

Fox producers said Tuesday they had no comment about the latest developments.