'Empire' Actor Jussie Smollett enters not guilty plea

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"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court on Thursday to new charges that he falsely reported to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault on a city street.

Smollett is accused of lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men on January 29 in downtown Chicago.

Wearing a navy suit and dress coat, Smollett, 36, appeared serious and quiet standing next to his attorneys as Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to his case.

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

A grand jury in Chicago indicted him on 16 felony counts, which his lawyers have called "prosecutorial overkill".

Fox cut Smollett's character in "Empire" after he was arrested. He told police that two men attacked him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. Details in some of those statements were different, the indictment says.

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"This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines", Geragos said.

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. "(4) Transmits or causes to be transmitted in any manner to any peace officer, public officer or public employee a report to the effect that an offense will be committed, is being committed, or has been committed, knowing at the time of the transmission that there is no reasonable ground for believing that the offense will be committed, is being committed, or has been committed".

Smollett has denied that he staged the attack and maintains he is innocent.

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In a searing live press conference on that same day, CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said it was "shameful' what Smollett allegedly try to pull off and accused him of perpetuating a "hoax". While there has been a lot of speculation regarding the actor's future on the show - as Empire's own future is now shrouded in mystery and facing rumors of cancellation - several episodes of the second half of Season 5 were already in the can before Smollett's legal drama unfolded.