Smollett pleads not guilty to fake attack

Empire actor Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to faking an alleged racial attack on himself.
Empire actor Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to faking an alleged racial attack on himself.

Empire actor Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty in court to 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging a phoney attack and claiming he was the victim of a hate crime.

Cook County court Judge Steven Watkins will ultimately decide if court proceedings beyond Thursday's brief hearing can be video-recorded.

Last week, a grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct.

The 36-year-old actor, who is free on $US100,000 bond, has vehemently denied lying to police or faking the attack. His legal team has also called the multiple counts "redundant and vindictive."

The actor, who is African-American and openly gay, has said he was walking from a Subway sandwich shop to his apartment in the 300 block of East North Water Street about 2 am on January 29 when two men walked up, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hit him and wrapped a noose around his neck.

Smollett said they also yelled, "This is MAGA country," in a reference to US President Donald Trump's campaign slogan of "Make America Great Again."

Police initially treated the incident as a hate crime, but their focus turned to Smollett after two brothers who were alleged to have been his attackers told police that Smollett had paid them $US 3500 to stage the attack, with a promise of another $US 500 later.

Police pieced together much of their evidence by reviewing footage from about 55 police and private surveillance cameras showing the brothers' movements before and after the attack.

The shift in the investigation came amid intense press coverage and often bitter public debate and stinging skepticism on social media.

A week before the alleged attack, Smollett told police he received a threatening letter at work.

Prosecutors said Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with the studio's response to the threatening letter. Chicago police took it a step further, accusing Smollett of faking the letter as well.

Federal authorities are conducting a separate investigation into that letter.

Australian Associated Press