Empire actor pleads not guilty to staging 'racist attack'

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Empire actor Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic assault.

The 36-year-old’s lawyer entered the plea on his behalf during a court appearance in Chicago.

Prosecutors allege that Smollett, who is black and openly gay, hired two men to help stage an attack on him in downtown Chicago in the early hours of 29 January.

Image: Smollett was surrounded by press outside court in Chicago

He told detectives that two masked men beat him while hurling racist and homophobic slurs, and that they poured an unknown substance on him before hanging a noose around his neck, police say.

Officers initially investigated the incident as a hate crime but, police sources at the time were reported as saying the attack had been a hoax.

Jussie Smollett

Image: Smollett is next due to appear in court in April

A grand jury charged Smollett on 16 felony counts relating to the filing of a false police report earlier in March. Each count carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

They came after an initial charge on 20 February, of one count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

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Smollett was dropped from Empire by Fox after he was arrested.

He has denied staging the attack and maintains his innocence, with his lawyers previously saying that the indictment is “vindictive” and “prosecutorial overkill”.

Smollett is next due to appear in court on April 17.

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