The Empire actor, who pleaded not guilty Monday in Chicago to new charges stemming from his alleged hate crime hoax, made a rare statement about the ongoing case. The takeaway? “I am innocent,” he proclaimed.
TMZ caught up with the actor, who was accompanied by his lawyer at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday, and he admitted that the situation, which he thought was behind him, is “definitely frustrating. It's fight or die at this point."
Jussie Smollett out and about
Jussie Smollett out and about
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 06: Jussie Smollett speaks at the Children's Defense Fund California's 28th Annual Beat The Odds Awards at Skirball Cultural Center on December 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - JANUARY 21: Jussie Smollett is seen at NATPE Miami 2019 - Tyler Perry Keynote 'Living the Dream: A Career in Content' at the Fontainebleau Hotel on January 21, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett performs onstage during amfAR Dance2Cure at Bardot on December 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 02: Jussie Smollett attends The Trevor Project's 2018 TrevorLIVE Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on December 02, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett attends the Black AIDS Institute's 2018 Heroes in The Struggle Gala at California African American Museum on December 01, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Luna/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Jussie Smollett attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations: 'Empire' at The Robin Williams Center on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Actor Jussie Smollett is seen in Midtown on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Actor and activist Jussie Smollett visits Build Series to discuss the TV show 'Empire' and his work for charitable causes at Build Studio on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett performs onstage at Espolòn Celebrates Day of the Dead at Academy Nightclub on November 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images for EspolÃ²n)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Jussie Smollett attends a meet & greet at Bloomingdale's on October 16, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22: Jussie Smollett speaks during the 'Empire' season 5 world premiere during the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival at Spring Studios on September 22, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images for Tribeca TV)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Jussie Smollett attends the Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party 2018 at Sunset Tower Hotel on September 15, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 30: Actor Jussie Smollett attends the 2018 BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards at Woodruff Arts Center on August 30, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BMI)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 02: Fergie (L) and Jussie Smollett attend the FOX Summer TCA 2018 All-Star Party at Soho House on August 2, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JULY 07: Actor/singer Jussie Smollett attends the 2018 Essence Festival - Night 2 at Louisiana Superdome on July 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 22: Jussie Smollet performs during Acoustically Speaking, sponsored by M&Ms, during the 2018 BET Experience at Los Angeles Convention Center on June 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images for BET)
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When asked if he still claims to be innocent, the 37-year-old actor shot back, "I don't claim to be innocent, I am innocent."
Smollett’s attorney Tina Glandian said they have faith that "the system will eventually work."
The camera person brought up Smollett’s double jeopardy defense — his legal team is arguing that he shouldn’t be charged by a special prosecutor with the six new counts because the initial 16 counts against him were dropped by the Cook County State's Attorney's office in March — asking whether that or the fact that he claims he’s innocent is a better defense.
“The truth is the best defense,” Smollett replied. “The truth, which they know nothing about.”
On Jan. 29, 2019, Smollett reported that he was the victim of a hate crime attack, claiming two masked men doused him with a chemical substance and put a rope around his neck. The police investigation soon turned to him amid accusations that he staged the attack, and he was ultimately charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false report. However, in a surprise move, the charges against him were then dropped by the Cook County State Attorney's office.
But the dropped charges led to a special prosecutor being appointed to investigate the initial investigation. Dan Webb, a former U.S. attorney, then charged Smollett — who no longer is on the cast of Empire amid his legal woes — with six new counts of making false reports to the Chicago Police Department. He pleaded not guilty on Monday, was released on $20,000 bond and was ordered to return to court on March 18.
In addition to Smollett proclaiming himself innocent from the charges, his legal team contends that “the circumstances surrounding the initial case in 2019 did not reach the legal level warranting the appointment of a special prosecutor,” according to a new filing. Also, they contend that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that refiling charges violate protections against a person being charged twice for the same crime, which is known as double jeopardy.
In addition to his criminal case, Smollett is in a legal battle with the City of Chicago. The city sued him in a civil case for $130,000 to recoup the cost of the initial investigation and legal fees, claiming the actor should have to pay because it was a hoax. Smollett, who has maintained his innocence, countersued the city claiming he was “maliciously" prosecuted and has suffered “humiliation” and “emotional distress” over the whole thing.