News that a grand jury had indicted “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly lying to Chicago police about being attacked by two masked men may not have made much of a splash except for one thing: The lone felony count that Smollett had been arrested on last month had turned into 16.
The reasons Smollett is facing 16 counts rather than just one count of disorderly conduct — the felony in Illinois that people are charged with when accused of lying to police — are not fully explained in the indictment that a grand jury returned Thursday. But legal experts say indictments like that aren’t uncommon in Chicago, and there are some explanations as to how the grand jury could have arrived at the 16 counts, eight of them for Smollett’s comments to a police officer and eight others for what he told a detective.
The first starts with something that has been apparent since Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson briefed reporters last month on the investigation: Authorities are angry at Smollett.
“What you have is a police department and prosecutors that are obviously mad at him for embarrassing the city so they took every one of his lies and made it into another count,” said Terry Sullivan, a prominent local attorney who as a young prosecutor helped convict serial killer John Wayne Gacy in 1980 of killing 33 young men.
Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, called the 16-count indictment “prosecutorial overkill.” But prominent Chicago defense attorney Joseph Lopez, who is not involved in the Smollett case, said it’s the way prosecutors in Chicago do business.
“It is common practice for the Cook County state’s attorney to charge as much as they can for any kind of crime,” he said.
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