Empire actor Jussie Smollett is expected to plead not guilty Thursday to charges he lied to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago.
The hearing in Cook County Circuit Court began with Judge Steven Watkins being assigned to oversee the case, including the trial, if it reaches that point.
Smollett is expected to enter his plea before Watkins after a short recess. He’s charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct.
Smollett is black and gay, and plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show. It’s alleged he hired two friends to help him stage the attack on him in downtown Chicago early the morning of Jan. 29, and Smollett was unhappy about his salary and wanted to drum up publicity to help his career.
Smollett has denied he staged the attack and maintains he is innocent. His lawyers have called the charges “prosecutorial overkill.”
There were several supporters outside the courthouse doors as Smollett arrived for the hearing, including some waving signs.
Activist Wisdom Cole led a few chants in support of the actor, the black community and the LGBTQ community.
“Jussie has been a person of high calibre and character,” Cole said. “He comes from an activist family. He has a consistent track record and history of supporting marginalized people … and so his track record is not on par with the idea of a hoax.”
This story originally appeared on CBC