Jussie Smollett, who was accused by Chicago police of staging a hate crime against himself in January, pleaded not guilty on Thursday after he was indicted on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct by a grand jury. The Empire actor's lawyer Tina Glandian entered the plea on Smollett's behalf.
Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to oversee the case shortly after Smollett arrived at the Cook County courthouse on Thursday morning. The arraignment hearing then began at 10 a.m., which is when Smollett's plea was submitted. The 36-year-old actor is set to appear in court on April 17.
Smollett was initially charged with one felony count of disorderly conduct, stemming from accusations that he falsified a police report and lied to authorities about the events that took place on Jan. 29. He pleaded not guilty to the first felony charge from Feb. 20, however, a grand jury then indicted the Empire star for more than a dozen felony counts on March 8.
News reports have suggested that the actor may have staged the attack because he was unsatisfied with his pay on the Fox series Empire, and/or because he wanted to attract more publicity. Smollett is currently out on $100,000 bail and he could face up to three years in prison, and a $25,000 fine for each of the counts he's currently charged with.
The actor claimed that he was the victim of a racist, homophobic hate crime in Chicago after two men allegedly beat him, put a rope around his neck, and poured bleach on his face. On Feb. 13, Chicago police arrested brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo for their connection to the attack. Following their release two days later, reports began suggesting that Smollett may have orchestrated the entire thing.
Sources close to the brothers then told CBS that they believe Smollett staged the attack after the threatening letter he allegedly sent to himself on the set of Empire didn't draw enough media attention. Shortly thereafter, the Empire actor was officially listed as a suspect.