Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx now indicates uncertainty about the strength of evidence and testimony that underpinned charges against Jussie Smollett, and she welcomes an outside review of how her office handled the case, she wrote Friday in The Chicago Tribune.
Foxx defended her office’s decision to drop 16 felony charges against the “Empire” actor, who was accused of staging a hate crime attack on himself. In exchange, he agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bail and complete community service.
Smollett, 36, has maintained that he has been “truthful and consistent” about the assault.
“There were specific aspects of the evidence and testimony presented to the office that would have made securing a conviction against Smollett uncertain,” Foxx wrote. “In determining whether or not to pursue charges, prosecutors are required to balance the severity of the crime against the likelihood of securing a conviction.
“For a variety of reasons, including public statements made about the evidence in this case, my office believed the likelihood of securing a conviction was not certain,” she wrote, without elaborating on what matters might have been problematic.
Foxx just two days earlier had said her office “believed that they could prove (Smollett) guilty,” she told CNN affiliate WLS. Foxx stepped away from the case in mid-February, when it became clear Smollett had gone from victim to suspect, she told WLS.
In her op-ed, Foxx also reiterated another factor in her office’s decision to dismiss the charges: that disorderly conduct charges are Class 4 felonies, “the least serious category.”
“These felonies are routinely resolved, particularly in cases involving suspects with no prior criminal record, long before a case ever nears a courtroom and often without either jail time or monetary penalties,” she wrote. “Any prosecutor, law-enforcement leader or elected official not grandstanding or clouded by political expediency understands the purpose of sentencing guidelines.”
Foxx defends sealing records in the case
Foxx also doubled down on the widely criticized decision by her office to seal public records in the case.
The Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association claimed Foxx “falsely informed the public that the uncontested sealing of the criminal court case was ‘mandatory’ under Illinois law.” Foxx’s office “fundamentally misled the public on the law and circumstances surrounding the dismissal,” the group said Thursday in a statement.
State law, Foxx countered, allows Smollett to have the records sealed. “Smollett chose to pursue that avenue, and so my office is barred from releasing those records without his approval,” she wrote.
Foxx, in office since late 2016, said the decision to drop the charges also reflected her campaign promise to reform the criminal justice system in the nation’s second-most populous county.
“I was elected on a promise to rethink the justice system, to keep people out of prison who do not pose a danger to the community,” she wrote. “I promised to spend my office’s finite resources on the most serious crimes in order to create communities that are both safer and fairer.
“Our community is safer in every sense of the word when murderers and rapists are locked away,” she wrote.
Casting criticism of her office as a political matter, Foxx also said she would “welcome” an independent review of how it handled the case.
The city’s police union has called for a federal investigation to determine the extent of Foxx’s involvement, Meantime, a top GOP lawmaker has asked Illinois’ attorney general to review the prosecution, and President Donald Trump has said the FBI and Justice Department will review the Smollett case.
“Since it seems politically expedient right now to question my motives and actions, and those of my office, let me state publicly and clearly that I welcome an outside, nonpolitical review of how we handled this matter,” Foxx wrote. “I am not perfect, nor is any other prosecutor out there, but ensuring that I and my office have our community’s trust is paramount.”