Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to lying about attack

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United States television actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges he lied to police about being the victim of a racist, homophobic hate crime.

The Empire actor is accused of lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack 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.

After Smollett pleaded not guilty, Cook County Judge Steven Watkins granted him permission to travel to NY and California to consult with his attorneys, if he provides 48 hours notice to the court's pretrial services office. In the report filed in late January, Smollett told authorities that he had been jumped while walking through downtown Chicago just past midnight. His attorneys say they want the public to see the evidence, or lack thereof, in the case.

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A grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false report.

In a video posted to the official Empire YouTube channel on March 13, a new episode is teased, but Smollett is nowhere to be found - sans a split second out-of-focus shot. Geragos continues, "This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie's privacy in tampering with his medical records". Smollett, who is black and gay, claimed his alleged attackers used racial and homophobic slurs, hung a rope around his neck and tossed bleach on him before fleeing.

Smollett has denied all the allegations. The men were released without being charged. "Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense", Smollett's attorneys said in February. Otherwise, Smollett can not leave IL without the court's permission while he is free on bail, and Watkins admonished the actor to be present an on-time for all of his upcoming court dates. But the Fox drama's executive producers said in a statement last month that the actor's character would be removed from this season's final two episodes "to avoid further disruption on set".

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