Jussie Smollett asks Illinois high court to hear appeal of convictions for lying about hate crime

CHICAGO (AP) — Actor Jussie Smollett has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to intervene in his yearslong legal battle stemming from charges that he staged a racist, homophobic attack against himself in 2019 and lied about it to Chicago police.

His petition, filed Monday, asks the state's highest court to hear the case two months after an appeals court upheld his disorderly conduct convictions and sentence. In 2021, a jury convicted the “Empire” actor on five felony counts of disorderly conduct, a charge that can be filed in Illinois when a person is accused of lying to police.

He was sentenced to five months in jail, but was released pending appeal of his conviction and sentence. Smollett has maintained his innocence.

The state Supreme Court could take the case or let the lower court's decision stand.

“What should have been a straightforward case has been complicated by the intersection of politics and public outrage,” Smollett's attorneys wrote in Monday’s filing.

They repeated an argument from previous appeals saying his 2021 trial violated his Fifth Amendment protections against double jeopardy, or being punished twice for the same crime. They said he already performed community service and forfeited a $10,000 bond as part of a 2019 deal with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office to drop the initial 16 counts of disorderly conduct.

A grand jury subsequently restored charges against Smollett in 2020.

Smollett, who is Black and gay, had reported to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men wearing ski masks. The search for the attackers soon turned into an investigation of Smollett himself, leading to his arrest on charges he had orchestrated the whole thing.

Authorities alleged he paid the men whom he knew from work on “Empire,” which was filmed in Chicago. Prosecutors said Smollett told the men what slurs to shout, and to yell that he was in “MAGA Country,” a reference to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign slogan at the time.

In arguments before the Illinois Appellate Court last year, Smollett challenged the role of a special prosecutor, jury selection, evidence and other aspects of the case. But all were turned aside in a 2-1 opinion.

His request for a rehearing was denied last month.