ABC News(CHICAGO) — Embattled actor Jussie Smollett will not appear in the final two episodes of Empire this season in the wake of the criminal charges he's facing for allegedly falsifying claims of a hate crime.
Producers of the Fox show Empire said that Smollett's character will be removed from the final two episodes of the show.
The show's creators and executive producers Producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer released a joint statement confirming the news.
"The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season," the joint statement reads.
This update comes a day after Smollett entered a not guilty plea to felony charges for allegedly staging an attack. He returned to the Chicago set of the show after appearing in court Thursday, and insisted to his castmates that he didn't make up the story, a source familiar with the meeting told ABC News.
The actor also filmed scenes for the show on Thursday, according to the source, but the news that producers will not be including his character in the season's final two episodes suggests that any scenes he did film may not be used.
The announcement of his removal from the season's final two episodes comes more than a week after Strong, one of the show's co-creators, tweeted that there was no chance that the actor would be written off. The tweet came on Feb. 14, days before Smollett was charged.
"There is 0% truth that @JussieSmollett was going to be written off of Empire. This rumor is totally false. He is the third lead and one of the most beloved characters on the show. Writing him off the show has NEVER even been discussed," Strong tweeted at the time.
On Thursday, Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct and a Chicago judge set Smollett's bond at $100,000 and ordered the actor to surrender his passport.
The ruling followed a remarkable news conference during the police department's superintendent blasted the actor and accused him of staging an elaborate hoax that amounted to a "publicity stunt … to promote his career."
The weeks-long investigation into the alleged hate crime attack –- an alarming account that sizzled with a spectrum of hot button issues ranging from race, sexuality and politics to crime and celebrity — riveted and distressed a deeply-divided nation.
Standing before Cook County Circuit Court Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke, Jr., Smollett appeared to remain steadfast in his refutation of the felony charge against him. As he did with his fellow actors after the hearing, Smollett has repeatedly insisted that the attack was real and that he was merely a victim, not a perpetrator.
If convicted of felony disorderly conduct for filing a false report, the actor faces up to three years in prison.
When first assistant state attorney Risa Lanier told Lyke that the actor had picked up two brothers who authorities say carried out the staged attack on him at his direction and showed them the location of where he wanted to be attacked, Smollett shook his head in disagreement.
When Lyke told Smollett that the allegations, if true, are "utterly outrageous," the actor nodded his head in agreement — doing so again when Lyke said the noose detail would be the most despicable part of the alleged scheme.
The judge also ordered pre-trial monitoring of the actor, and ordered him to stay away from the two brothers he allegedly conspired with to stage the hoax attack, according to police.
Smollett's next court appearance is scheduled for March 14.
The tense courtroom appearance followed on the heels of a morning press conference at which a visibly angry Eddie Johnson, Chicago's police superintendent, castigated the actor for betraying his race and his city with such an incendiary false claim.
"Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," a visibly angry Johnson said. “I am left hanging my head asking ‘why?’. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? … How can an individual who's been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in the city in the face with these false claims?"
Johnson charged that Smollett, an actor on the hit show 'Empire' who has consistently denied any role in staging the alleged attack, orchestrated it because he was "dissatisfied with his salary."
Smollett's salary on the show is in the range of $100,000 per episode, according to a source familiar with his contract.
In addition to staging the attack, officials said, Smollett also sent himself a hate-filled letter to the Fox studio where the hit show is filmed.
Smollett turned himself in at 5:15 a.m. local time and made a statement to police before being taken into custody. His lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, were not present at the time but they released a statement the night before.
"Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."
Thursday evening, the attorneys released a statement criticizing law enforcement's handling of the case.
"Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election," the statement read. "Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing."
Police add that Smollett gave no statement to police after turning himself in and that his lawyers had reached out to them Wednesday night to discuss his surrender. Smollett wanted to turn himself in near midnight, but authorities suggested he come in at 5 a.m. instead, to avoid spending the night in jail. Smollett arrived early Thursday morning accompanied by a female lawyer and an entourage of five or six people.
Smollett was silent as he went through the motions of being booked and processed.
By late morning on Thursday, the backlash against the actor began at the top, with an angry tweet from the President of the United States.
"[email protected] – what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA" President Donald Trump wrote in a tweet after the press conference.
In an earlier interview with ABC News's Robin Roberts, Smollett was asked why he thought he was targeted and he replied that he is a strident critic of the Trump administration.
“I come really really hard against 45," he said, referring to Trump, the 45th U.S. president. "I come really really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.”
During a press briefing Thursday morning, Chicago law enforcement officials said that Chicago police detectives interviewed more than 100 people and reviewed dozens of police cameras trying to get to the bottom of Smollett's claims.
Johnson, a well-regarded and popular big city police chief and Chicago native, appeared genuinely aggrieved as he described how, he said, Smollett took advantage of the pain of racism to advance his career.
"Why would anyone use the symbol of a noose" to further his "own public profile," Johnson wondered aloud.
"I'm offended by what happened and I'm angry," Johnson continued. "This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t own and certainly didn’t deserve."
Johnson, who oversees one of the nation's largest police departments in one of its most violent cities, seemed disheartened by all the attention paid to the Smollett affair.
“The accusation within this phony attack received national attention for weeks,” Johnson told reporters during a press conference. “Celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor."
"When you get the opportunity," he said with a mixture of derision and frustration, "the shooting victims and their families? Give them the same amount of attention."
After the press briefing, 20th Century Fox, the station that airs Empire, released a statement which read, "We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options."
Smollett told police he was attacked by two masked men near his apartment in Chicago. The two men, Smollett initially said, shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him as a rope was wrapped around his neck and a chemical compound was poured on him. The alleged assailants yelled "MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's "Make American Great Again" slogan, police were told.
In his Good Morning America interview with Roberts, Smollett said he was heartbroken when he found out that people questioned his story.
Asked why he would leave the rope draped around his neck until police arrived because he "wanted them to see."
"I was looking at myself, just like checking myself out," he told Roberts. "I saw the bruise on my neck, you know, like the little — the rope burn around my neck. So when the police came I kept the clothes on, I kept the rope on me. … I mean, it wasn't, like, wrapped around. But, yeah, it was around because I wanted them to see."
Asked why he waited until the second interview to tell police that the assailants yelled “MAGA country” at him during the attack, Smollett seemed to take offense at the insinuation.
"For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing," Smollett said on ABC News. "I didn't need to add anything like that. They called me a f—-, they called me a n—-. There's no which way you cut it."
'Chicago trusted this young man'
Johnson said on Thursday that Smollett's seeming injuries from the incident also appeared to be phony.
“The brothers had on gloves during the staged attack where they — they punched him a little bit, but as far as we can tell, the scratches and bruising that you saw on his face was most likely self-inflicted."
Police identified and questioned two "persons of interest" captured on surveillance video near the scene around the time of the alleged attack. The men, who are brothers, were arrested on Feb. 13 but then released without charges, with police saying they were no longer considered suspects.
While being questioned by investigators, the brothers claimed that Smollett paid them to help orchestrate and stage the crime after he became upset that a letter threatening him, sent Jan. 22 to the Fox studio where Empire is filmed, did not get enough attention, sources told ABC News.
On Wednesday, Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false crime report. By that evening, police officially had classified the actor as a suspect in the ongoing investigation. Detectives subsequently presented evidence to a Cook County grand jury.
"That was a pretty hateful allegation, and it really put a terrible look on Chicago," Guglielmi told ABC Chicago station WLS in a telephone interview Thursday morning. "Chicago trusted this young man. We loved Empire, and we took this very seriously that something this hateful could happen in our city."
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