Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to lying about attack 16 hrs

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"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in an IL courtroom on Thursday to disorderly conduct charges over allegations he staged a hate crime and lied to police.

The judge will then likely ask Smollett to enter a plea.

Smollett will next appear in court on April 17. "Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense", Smollett's attorneys said in February.

"We welcome cameras in the courtroom so that the public and the media can see the actual evidence and what we believe is the lack of evidence against Mr. Smollett, and we look forward to complete transparency and the truth coming out", she said at a news conference earlier this week.

Smollett, 36, first reported the attack in January, saying that two men attacked him while shouting racist and homophobic slurs at him.

He appeared before his newly assigned judge, Steven Watkins, in Chicago on Thursday, days after a grand jury indicted him on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to investigators, according to Fox News.

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Not much later, Chicago police revealed they had evidence pointing to the Hollywood star lying about the attack, accusing him of paying his "attackers", all so he could get more attention and score a bigger salary from Empire. Details in some of those statements were different, the indictment says.

Smollett has maintained his innocence and his attorney Tina Glandian earlier this week said the case against him is mired in "misinformation".

Later developments cast doubt on Smollett's account, including the questioning of two suspects - a pair of Nigerian brothers, one of whom worked as a personal trainer on a music video of Smollett's - who were later released without being charged.

"Empire" producers made a decision to remove Smollett's character, Jamal, from the final two episodes of the season.

Smollett has maintained that he is a victim and denied all allegations that he staged the incident.

"Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed", the indictment states. 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.

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