A Timeline of Jussie Smollett's Case

From that awful hate letter and turning himself into Chicago PD to his trial and sentencing, here’s a timeline of former 'Empire' star Jussie Smollett’s ordeal.

Jussie Smollett is released from the Cook County Department of Corrections detention center on March 16, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.

Image via Scott Olson/Getty Images

Jussie Smollett is released from the Cook County Department of Corrections detention center on March 16, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.

Since January of 2019, many have been trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Jussie Smollett. Following initial reports that the actor had been attacked outside of a Chicago Subway while filming the Fox series Empire, fans have questioned everything from whether he was actually attacked to just how much trust we should put in the Chicago Police Department’s statements. The tale included former Empire extras, a racist and homophobic letter being sent to the Empire set, and Jussie declaring himself the “gay Tupac.”

On the morning of Feb. 21, 2019, the case took a major turn, with Smollett turning himself in to Chicago police after being considered the orchestrator of what they’re now calling a hoax. What follows is a roller coaster of charges being brought up and dropped only to have Smollett indicted once again, all part of what his attorney calls a “tremendous rush to judgment” that ended up with Smollett losing his Empire gig and damaging his reputation. Over the next three years, Smollett’s case was tried both in real court and in the court of public opinion, and after some false starts, a number of witnesses, and an unsuccessful bid for a new trial, Smollett was found guilty on five counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police. After being sentenced to jail time, Smollett was surprisingly released from the Cook County Department of Corrections detention center just days later.

With so many twists and turns over the last few years, here is the full timeline of Jussie Smollett’s case.

Date: Jan. 22, 2019

What happened: Less than a week before the attack, a letter arrived at the offices of Fox's Empire is filmed. It was addressed to Smollett and not only contained racist and homophobic language, but is said to have contained white powder.

What Smollett says happened

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Date: Jan. 29, 2019

What happened: On the morning of Jan. 29, 2019, multiple news outlets reported that Smollett had been hospitalized after an attack at 2 a.m. Initial reports said that Smollett had been on his way to a Chicago Subway when he was attacked by two white men outside of the restaurant; the men, who wore ski masks, were said to have shouted "this is MAGA country" while beating him, putting a noose around his neck, and ultimately fracturing one of his ribs, although a spokesperson from the Chicago Police Department told Complex that "there is no report of that being said." From there, the Chicago Police Department launched an investigation into the reported attack, looking into it as "a possible hate crime."

Security footage is released

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Date: Jan. 30, 2019

What happened: The Chicago Police Department’s chief communications officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that “detectives [had] located a surveillance camera that shows potential persons of interest wanted for questioning.” Images from the footage were distributed in hopes of helping police catch these individuals.

The Smollett family responds

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Date: Jan. 31, 2019

What happened: Smollett's family released a statement on the attack: "We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice." After calling the attack "domestic terrorism," they continued: "We want people to understand these targeted hate crimes are happening to our sisters, brothers and our gender non-conforming siblings, many who reside within the intersection of multiple identities, on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily basis all across our country."

Jussie Smollett issues a statement

Jussie Smollett attends the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 60th Anniversary Opening Night Gala Benefit

Jussie Smollett calls himself "The Gay Tupac!"

Jussie Smollett performs onstage at Troubadour on February 02, 2019

Smollett's phone records submitted, rejected

Jussie Smollett

Two men are arrested

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Date: Feb. 13, 2019

What happened: Eleven days later, Chicago Police arrested two men in connection with the attack, later identified as Nigerian brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo. According to The Wrap, Olabinjo appeared as an extra on Empire in 2015.

The 'Good Morning America' interview

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Date: Feb. 19, 2019

What happened: ABC scored Smollett's first full-length interview after the attack, where he said he was "pissed off" at people questioning his story and the incident.

That evening, more details surfaced about the Osundairo brothers. Chicago police raided their home, seizing five bottles of bleach, electronics, shoes, and other items. Police also stated that the brothers had left for Nigeria on the day of the attack.

As this information was released, some media reports indicated that Chicago PD believed Smollett had staged the attack. Guglielmi tweeted that the media reports alleging that the attack was a hoax were "unconfirmed by case detectives," as there was "no evidence to support their reporting." He referred to the supposed CPD sources these outlets had spoken to as "uninformed and inaccurate."

Osundairo brothers released

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Date: Feb. 15, 2019

What happened: While Chicago PD continued to dispute reports that they thought the attack was staged, the two men they arrested were released without being charged. "Due to new evidence as a result of today's interrogations," Guglielmi tweeted, "the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete."

Was it staged?

jussie smollett

The Osundairo brothers speak

Jussie Smollett

Smollett is a suspect

Jussie Smollett

Smollett brought into police custody

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Date: Feb. 21, 2019

What happened: Early Thursday morning, Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police. The resulting class 4 felony charges against Smollett could result in up to three years in prison and an estimated $25,000 in additional fines.

During the subsequent press conference, CPD superintendent Eddie Johnson called this incident a "publicity stunt" and "a scar Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve." They repeated claims that Smollett sent the original letter that started the entire ordeal and confirmed that he'd paid the two brothers $3,500 for their part in the incident. The reasoning? According to Johnson, Smollett was "dissastified" with the amount of money he was making on Empire. Chicago PD also called his Good Morning America appearance "shameful" and asked that Jussie apologizes to the city of Chicago.

Later that day, Smollett was released from police custody after posting $10,000 cash towards the $100,00 bond he was being held on. Multiple outlets reported that he made his way to the Empire set. Fox, who'd stood behind Smollett while this case developed, released a statement saying that they "are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options." Meanwhile, Smollett's legal team released their own statement: “The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollet cut from final episodes of 'Empire'

Jussie Smollett in Fox's 'Empire'

Date: Feb. 23, 2019

Less than 24 hours after the news of his scenes in Empire being cut, a number of questions regarding Jussie’s case came about. Initially, there were reports claiming that Jussie had modeled his alleged hoax after the attack Empire executive producer Lee Daniels’ cousin suffered in January, which Daniels said only occurred because he is gay. Meanwhile, the FBI said that they weren’t certain that Jussie sent the letter that kicked this whole ordeal off in the first place. Finally, there was talk that Jussie’s Empire character might be recast.

What was the check for?

cpd internal investigation jussie smollett

Hospital employees fired, internal investigation begins

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Date: Mar. 7, 2019

What happened: CBS2 Chicago reported that dozens of workers and nurses at Northwestern Hospital are said to have been fired for accessing Smollett’s hospital records inappropriately. This was the medical facility that Smollett was treated at after his alleged attack.

That same day, the Chicago PD launched an internal investigation into information leaks that went to the media. In a statement, Chicago PD Sergeant Rocco said he "would like to point out that a lot of the information out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation. As a standard procedure when there are allegations of information being leaked, an internal investigation has been opened and we are also looking at our vulnerabilities."

Grand jury indicts Smollett on 16 felony counts

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Date: Mar. 8, 2019

What happened: A day later, a Cook County grand jury indicted Jussie on 16 felony counts (he was originally charged with one felony count for filing a false police report). According to ABC 7, the grand jury hit Jussie with two separate sets of charges, one based on what he originally told police about the attack, and the second based on a second interview later that day.

ABC 7 also reported that each set of charges carries a sentence of probation; the thought is that Jussie would plea out and not have to face jail time.

Osundairo brothers feel they were "taken advantage of"

Attorney Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez with Abimbola and Ola Osundairo (R) arrive at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse

Smollett pleads not guilty

jussie smollett

All charges dropped

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Date: Mar. 26, 2019

What happened: On Tuesday morning, after word of an emergency hearing in Smollett's case was being held, his attorneys released a statement saying that "all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him." State District Attorney Kim Foxx also released a statement, saying that "After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case."

Smollett indicted by special prosecutor


Smollett pleads not guilty, wants new charges killed

Jussie Smollett departs after a court appearance Monday, Feb. 24, 2020 at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in Chicago.

Smollett's trial begins

Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building for the start of jury selection in his trial on November 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.

Smollett testifies about his relationship with Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo

Abimbola "Abel" Osundairo, one of the brothers connected to the alleged staged hate crime involving Jussie Smollett, and his attorney Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez walk through the Leighton Criminal Courthouse

Don Lemon catches heat over tests to Smollett

Don Lemon on red carpet at RFK Human Rights event

No verdict is reached after first day of deliberations

Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Court Building between his mother Janet Smollett and sister Jurnee Smollett

Smollett found guilty

Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Courts Building after being found guilty

Smollett sentenced to 150 days in jail

Jussie Smollett appears at his sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building

Former 'Empire' castmate Taraji P. Henson shares support

Taraji P. Henson and director Jussie Smollett in the "What is Done" episode of EMPIRE

Date: Mar. 13, 2022

What happened: Days after Jussie’s sentence, Smollett’s former Empire castmate Taraji P. Henson shared her support for Smollett with the #FREEJUSSIE hashtag on her Instagram page, along with a statement. 

“I am not here to debate you on his innocence but we can agree that the punishment does not fit the crime,” Henson said. “Emmett Till was brutally beat and ultimately murdered because of a lie and none of the people involved with his demise spent one day in jail, even after Carolyn Bryant admitted that her claims were false. No one was hurt or killed during Jussie’s ordeal. He has already lost everything, EVERYTHING!”

“To me as an artist not able to create that in itself is punishment enough,” Henson continued. “He can’t get a job. No one in Hollywood will hire him and again as an artist who loves to create, that is prison. My prayer is that he is freed and put on house arrest and probation because in this case that would seem fair.”

Smollett's legal team files emergency motion for his release

Jussie Smollett appears with his attorneys at his sentencing hearing

Smollett is released from jail

Jussie Smollett leaves the Cook County Jail after he was ordered to be released late Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Date: Mar. 16, 2022

What happened: Smollett was released from Cook County Jail on the night of Wednesday, March 16, 2022. 

Here’s Jussie Smollett officially being released from jail, pending the appeal of his conviction.

(via @cbschicago) pic.twitter.com/ocPRWo1YIo

— Omar Jimenez (@OmarJimenez) March 17, 2022

Part of Smollett’s release requires him to post a $150,000 personal recognizance bond, which meant he’d need to agree to show up to a scheduled court date, but a down payment would not be needed at the time.

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