'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty

Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to charges that he staged a hoax

Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct, maintaining his innocence amid allegations that he faked a possible hate crime against himself earlier this year.

Lawyer Tina Glandian entered the plea on behalf of the 36-year-old actor during a hearing in Cook County Circuit Court after Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to oversee the case, including the trial.

Smollett also was in court Tuesday for a hearing to determine whether a judge should allow cameras in court.

We'll continue to keep you updated as we're sure we'll be hearing more about the case ahead of his upcoming April court date. The charges all are Class 4 felonies, the lowest category of felony offense under IL law.

Mark Geragos, one of Smollett's attorneys and a CNN legal analyst, said the actor maintains his innocence and called the indictment "prosecutorial overkill".

The indictment says Smollett told police he was attacked around 2 a.m.by two men who used racial and homophobic slurs.

The plea comes less than one week after a Chicago grand jury indicted the embattled actor on 16 felony counts in relation to the actor's alleged staging of a hate crime against himself in January.

- Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the Fox TV show, receives a racist and homophobic threatening letter at the Chicago studio where "Empire" is filmed. After being picked up by police, the brothers confessed their involvement and became cooperating witnesses.

Jussie Smollett arrives at Leighton Criminal Courthouse on March 14, 2019 in Chicago, Ill.

Another key piece of evidence that will be scrutinized is the $3,500 check Smollett wrote the Osundairo brothers. A lawyer for the brothers, Gloria Schmidt, claims it was for both. Police say Smollett also told detectives the attackers also yelled he was in "MAGA country", an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan that some Trump critics have decried as racist and discriminatory. When he went to pay them was when he [asked] for this favor. "'Here's payment for the other thing we talked about'".

The Jussie Smollett case has brought doubts over the future of Empire, which has yet to be renewed for a sixth season.

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