Judge allows cameras at 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett's next court hearing on criminal charges

Cameras will be allowed – for now – in the courtroom at embattled "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett's next court appearance, a Cook County judge ruled Tuesday, adding that whomever is appointed Thursday to preside over the high-profile case will ultimately have the final say.

Tina Glandian, a lawyer for Smollett, told the court she would welcome cameras in the courtroom because there has been a lot of leaked misinformation and that cameras would allow the public to "see the evidence and the lack thereof."

Wearing a gray coat, sunglasses and black gloves, 'Smollett appeared at the Chicago courthouse Tuesday.

Smollett was initially charged with one count of lying to the authorities on Feb. 20. Last week, a grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts of lying to authorities — eight counts from what he told the officer who responded to the report of the attack, and eight for what he later told a detective about being the victim of a brutal racist and homophobic beating by two masked men in downtown Chicago back in January.


Police say Smollett, who is black and gay, staged the Jan. 29 incident because he was unhappy with his salary on the Fox show and wanted to promote his career.

Smollett's attorney, Mark Geragos, called the charges "prosecutorial overkill." Smollett maintains his innocence.

Chicago police have made it clear they are upset at the man they claim thrust the Windy City back into the national spotlight over race relations.

"What you have is a police department and prosecutors that are obviously mad at him for embarrassing the city so they took every one of his lies and made it into another count," Terry Sullivan, a prominent local attorney who as a young prosecutor helped convict serial killer John Wayne Gacy in 1980 of killing 33 young men, said.

Even though Smollett's attorney called the 16-count indictment overkill, prominent Chicago defense attorney Joseph Lopez, who is not involved in the Smollett case, told The Associated Press that it's the way prosecutors in Chicago do business.


"It is common practice for the Cook County state's attorney to charge as much as they can for any kind of crime," he said.

A former state appellate judge suggested such a strategy might be employed by prosecutors trying to protect themselves from the possibility that a jury or a judge might believe some, but not all, of the allegations.

"If you only charge him with one or two counts and they find him not guilty of them, you're done," said David Erickson, who now teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law. "This gives the prosecution the ability to convict him of any one of these lies."

Lopez said it appears that when prosecutors went to the grand jury they simply dissected the case, breaking Smollett's account into individual pieces and accusing him of one count per detail they believe he made up.

That means that one count might stem from Smollett's contention that the men hurled racial and homophobic taunts at him and another for what he said was the way they beat him. Another could be tied to his claim that the men doused him with an unknown chemical, and another still for his statement that one of them looped a rope tied like a noose around his neck. Then there was his assertion, police said, that he could see one of the men was white because he could see the skin around his eyes. The two men police say Smollett hired to take part in the attack are both black.

"The lies add up pretty fast," Lopez said.


Each count is a Class 4 felony, which carries a possible prison sentence of one to three years. If Smollett is convicted, a judge could allow him to be given probation instead of imposing a prison sentence.

Lopez and Erickson agreed that if Smollett is convicted, it won't matter whether it's on one or several counts when it comes to sentencing. That's because he would be sentenced for only one of them.

"If you add them all up it's still only one crime," Erickson said. "That's just how it is."

And Lopez said that if Smollett is convicted of multiple counts, prosecutors can ask that the sentences be served consecutively but it is highly unlikely a judge would do so.

Smollett's legal troubles may not begin and end with this one indictment. Days before the Jan. 29 incident, a letter threatening Smollett was sent to the studio where the television show is filmed — a letter Johnson told reporters the day Smollett appeared in court that the actor had actually sent.

The FBI, which is investigating that letter, has declined to comment on the investigation. But if Smollett did talk to the FBI, depending on what he said, he could be in more legal trouble.

"Lying to the FBI is a crime," said Erickson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

You can find Barnini Chakraborty on Twitter @Barnini.