Jussie Smollett denies lying about alleged hate crime

The actor has described the letter, which reportedly mentioned Cinco de Mayo, as ‘terrible’

Actor Jussie Smollett has defended himself against claims that he lied about an attack he said occurred late last month, calling a prosecutor’s move to read messages to the courtroom as being “absolutely horrible”.

The Empire star told a prosecutor during a hearing on Tuesday that he would not comment on whether he lied or not when he initially reported that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago.

“I want people to understand the pain and the damage that a racist and homophobic attack can do,” Smollett said in court after he was freed on $100,000 bail and an order to undergo a psychological evaluation.

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Chicago police chief of detectives John Escalante said police found several noose-like signs at Smollett’s apartment and a “racist and homophobic” letter sent to him with racist and homophobic notes bearing a date similar to when the attack allegedly occurred. The prosecutor also said Smollett “stoked” a hoax to gain money, the victim’s role on an award-winning Fox television series.

But Smollett said he did not want to comment on anything in the court case because it was about someone else.

“My attorneys will address this in court tomorrow,” he said.

When the courtroom scurried to the judge’s well after Smollett finished speaking, the actor said: “I do not want to see this letter in public. This is between me and my lawyers and I don’t want to give a platform to someone to say whatever they want to say about me.”

Smollett and his attorneys said he suffered a mental health setback and depression because of the lies he told police about being attacked.

The actor was indicted in Chicago by a grand jury on 16 counts including disorderly conduct and lying to police. The new indictment covered a time frame that extended from the night of 1 January through 25 January.

Prosecutors claim Smollett, 36, orchestrated the attack because he was unhappy about his salary on the TV show Empire, which is based on the lives of singers and songwriters. He was a regular on the Fox show’s first two seasons and a regular on its second season, but this year he was reduced to a recurring character in order to save money.

Smollett could face up to three years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, disorderly conduct. He also could be ordered to pay legal costs and $500 in fines. He is expected to appear in court on 14 February.

• This article was amended on 15 January. An earlier version incorrectly referred to the producer of Empire as Debra Lee, chief executive of the Fox television network and studio. This has been corrected.

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