"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court 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.
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, according to Reuters.
"Yes, sir," Smollett said in a soft voice as the judge instructed him that he would next return to court on April 12. Some of his relatives sat in the court's overflow gallery near a handful of fans, some wearing "Empire" shirts.
In an indictment returned by a grand jury last Thursday, Smollett, who is black, openly gay and plays a gay musician on Fox's hip-hop drama, was charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct alleging he gave false accounts of an attack on him to police investigators.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Smollett was previously charged last month with felony disorderly conduct for making a false report after he told police he was attacked in January by masked supporters of President Donald Trump who beat him, slung a noose round his neck and poured a liquid chemical on him while shouting racist and homophobic slurs. Detectives investigated the incident as a hate crime, but local news outlets cited police sources saying it was believed to be a hoax.
According to prosecutors, Smollett wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers and gave them $100 to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps used in the supposed attack on Jan. 29.
Fox cut Smollett's character in "Empire" after he was arrested.
But when the show returned on Wednesday night, Smollett's character returned as well, as the episode was filmed before Smollett's troubles.
Alice Cooper: Fellow Vampire Depp never been happier
Despite his ongoing legal drama with ex-wife Amber Heard, Johnny Depp has never been "happier," according to his bandmate, Alice Cooper. The Hollywood Vampires rocker came to Depp's defense in an interview with Billboard, saying the 55-year-old actor is in a great place despite what's being whispered about in the press, Yahoo reports.
"All the stuff you heard last year about Johnny, 99 percent was just bull," Cooper claimed.
Depp's appearance sparked concerns in June after he looked noticeably thinner with headlines questioning his health and sobriety.
"I've never seen him look better in my life," the singer added. "I've never seen him happier. I've never heard him play better, and the way the press would have it is he's a total destruction and ready to die. Totally not true."
What is true is that Depp has been in a public he said-she said battle with Heard over the actress' domestic-abuse allegations. He just filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against the "Aquaman" star, claiming her accusations are "an elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity" for her and "advance her career," a claim her lawyers deny. Apparently, Depp put his frustrations over Heard's abuse charges, as well as rumors about health and addiction issues, into a few songs on the band's upcoming album.
"I'm spewing his venom on this album, which is kind of good," Cooper said, adding, "It's really interesting because it's not your normal hard rock. ... It goes places I wouldn't normally go, and that's kind of what I like about it."
The band, which also features Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, does not have a release date for the album.