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Samuel L Jackson leads pleas for clemency for Jussie Smollett at sentencing for faking hate crime attack

Smollett has been sentenced to 150 days in prison

Samuel L Jackson and Alfre Woodard were among the celebrities who voiced their support for Jussie Smollett prior to his sentencing on Thursday.

The 39-year-old Empire star was handed a 150-day prison sentence for “selfishly, arrogantly and narcissistically” staging a hate crime hoax that the judge said had “destroyed his life” and was designed solely to satisfy his “craving” for attention.

Smollett was accused of lying to city police about a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago in the early hours of 29 January 2019 by masked MAGA supporters.

Right before his sentencing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, the court heard character witnesses from Jackson and his wife LaTanya Richardson Jackson, in the form of a letter they wrote to judge James B Linn.

They asked the judge to have mercy on the actor and find an alternative to imprisoning him.

“It is with the respect of knowing this, that I humbly implore you to please find an alternative to incarceration for Jussie Smollett,” the couple wrote in the letter.

“It is my understanding that Jussie was convicted of Class 4, disorderly conduct, which to my understanding, people convicted of this offence historically are sentenced to various alternatives to incarceration.”

In the letter, Jackson vouched for Smollett and said that he “comes from a good family”.

Jussie Smollett was also handed a 30-month probation and ordered to pay $120,106 in restitution and $25,000 in fines

“We have often broken bread with this young man as we discussed the right and wrong ways to live,” said the letter.

“Jussie comes from a good family whom we are proud to know intimately and who we know stand ready to provide the support and monitoring assistance that they can provide for him in an alternative probation scenario.”

The Avengers: Endgame actor told the judge that he thinks Smollett has suffered enough already.

“Jussie has already suffered a great deal of punishment, as this situation has destroyed his existing career and impugned his reputation,” Jackson and his wife wrote.

“Please Judge Linn, in God’s name, please save this young man and allow him to be of service. Jussie Smollett is worth the risk and the investment.”

Emmy Award-winning actress Woodard also submitted a letter calling Smollett “an exceptionally kind human being”.

“Some conscientious people reach out to those without access after they achieve success in their given fields. Jussie has been a compassionate presence and advocate for those without means since he was a boy,” she said.

“His dedicated work as an artist brought him success, and allowed him to bring his natural impulse to be of assistance into an even wider field of effectiveness. Jussie has kept his heart, his wallet and his schedule wide open to those suffering among us.”

Civil rights leader the Rev Jesse Jackson and NAACP President Derrick Johnson also submitted letters.

Prior to the reading of the letters, several witnesses addressed the judge directly in court, including his brother and grandmother.

Smollett appeared to break down in tears as the latter, 92-year-old Mollie Smollett, took the stand and called her grandson a “justice warrior”.

“I ask you, judge, not to send him to prison,” she said. “And if you do, send me along with him, okay? Thank you, your honor.”

Mollie Smollett also took aim at the media’s coverage of the case, telling journalists: “You have not done a good job of investigative reporting. You have got to do better.”

Rich Daniels, the music supervisor for Empire, the show in which Smollett starred prior to his arrest, also addressed the judge directly and spoke of the friendship he and the actor formed off set.

In the end, the supporters pleas appeared to do little to sway the judge. In handing down the 150-day sentence, Judge Linn told the actor: “You’re just a charlatan pretending to be the victim of a hate crime, and that’s shameful.”

Smollett was also given a 30-month probation and ordered to pay $120,106 (£91,700) in restitution and $25,000 (£19,000) in fines.

After the sentence was announced, an emotional Smollett stood and repeatedly said: “I am not suicidal, I am not suicidal.”

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