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Dismissal of Smollett case brings backlash, more questions

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  • CHICAGO — Prosecutors still insist Jussie Smollett faked a racist, anti-gay attack on himself in the hopes that the attention would advance his acting career. The “Empire” star still says he was assaulted by two men late at night in downtown Chicago.

    But with little explanation, authorities on Tuesday abruptly dropped all charges against Smollett, abandoning the criminal case only five weeks after the allegations were filed. In return, prosecutors said, the actor agreed to let the city keep his $10,000 in bail.

    The dismissal drew a swift backlash from the mayor and police chief and raised questions about why Smollett was not forced to admit what prosecutors had said they could prove in court — that the entire episode was a publicity stunt.

    Among those sure to keep pressing for answers is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appeared blindsided by the decision. His voice rising in anger at times, Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett. He said Smollett had exploited hate-crime laws meant to protect minorities by turning the laws “inside out, upside down for only one thing — himself.”

    “Where is the accountability in the system?” Emanuel asked. “You cannot have, because of a person’s position, one set of rules apply to them and another set of rules apply to everybody else.”

    Smollett has become a household name as a result of the case, but it’s unclear if the dropped charges will diminish the taint that followed his arrest last month. His insistence that he had been vindicated may make the entertainment industry cautious about fully embracing him.

    Defence attorneys said Smollett’s record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report. The actor, who also agreed to do community service, insisted that he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”

    “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” he told reporters after a court hearing. He thanked the state of Illinois “for attempting to do what’s right.”

    In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutors’ office said the dismissal came “after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case.” Tandra Simonton called it “a just disposition and appropriate resolution,” but said it was not an exoneration.

    First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats said prosecutors “stand behind the investigation and the facts.”

    When dropping cases, prosecutors will sometimes insist that the defendant accept at least a measure of responsibility. Outside court, neither Smollett nor his legal team appeared to concede anything about his original report in January .

    Defence attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said Smollett was “attacked by two people he was unable to identify” and “was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”

    Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him.

    Emanuel, who leaves office in May after two terms, said the hoax could endanger other gay people who report hate crimes by casting doubt on whether they are telling the truth.

    Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Chicago “is still owed an apology.”

    “I’ve heard that they wanted their day in court with TV cameras so that America could know the truth. They chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system,” he said.

    Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation before Smollett was charged, citing conversations she had with a Smollett family member.

    Many legal experts were surprised by the dismissal, especially the fact that it did not include any condition that Smollett apologize and admit he staged the assault.

    “This situation is totally bizarre. It’s highly, highly unusual,” said Phil Turner, a Chicago defence attorney and former federal prosecutor with no ties to the case.

    Smollett reported that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 on his way home from a sandwich shop. Investigators said he made the false report because he was unhappy with his pay on “Empire” and believed it would promote his career.

    The actor plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, which follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.

    Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and looped a rope around his neck. He claimed they shouted, “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. He asserted that he could see one of the men was white because he could see the skin around his eyes.

    Police said Smollett paid $3,500 to the two men, both of whom are black.

    The men were brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, and one of them had worked on “Empire.” An attorney for them, Gloria Schmidt, has said the brothers agreed to help Smollett because of their friendship with him and the sense that he was helping their careers. They declined to comment.

    Schmidt said in a statement Tuesday: “The Osundairo brothers were fully prepared to testify in any criminal proceeding in the Jussie Smollett case.”

    On Wednesday, Smollett’s attorney told “Good Morning America” that the two brothers are lying. Tina Glandian said Smollett had hired one brother as a personal trainer, and that they discussed training and nutrition in the hours before the attack as Smollett’s flight to Chicago was delayed. But she said Smollett had no idea who attacked him until the brothers were later identified by police.

    She said Smollett is a crime victim and “just wants his life back.”

    Before the attack, police said, Smollett also sent a letter threatening himself to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot. The FBI, which is investigating that letter, has declined to comment.

    Smollett said he wanted “nothing more than to get back to work.” But his future with the show was unclear. Shortly after the charges were filed, producers announced that his character would be removed from the final two episodes of the season.

    Fox Television, which produces “Empire,” issued a one-sentence statement late Tuesday saying only that the company was “gratified” that the charges had been dropped.

    ___

    Associated Press Writer Caryn Rousseau contributed to this report.

    ___

    Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

    ___

    Check out the AP’scomplete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.

    Michael Tarm And Amanda Seitz, The Associated Press


















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    National

    The hardest choice of this long weekend: Raptors or ‘Game of Thrones’?

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  • TORONTO — As a “Game of Thrones” fanatic who is also a devoted Toronto Raptors fan, Oriana Di Nucci finds herself weighing the pros and cons of what to watch this Sunday when the fantasy saga concludes at the same time her beloved team hosts its first home game of the NBA Eastern Conference final.

    Despite the ubiquity of on-demand viewing, watching event programming live on a traditional television is still the preferred mode to experience mammoth meme-able moments, says the pop culture junkie. But she is still kicking herself for switching to “Game of Thrones” last Sunday just before Kawhi Leonard scored an astonishing buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the playoffs’ second round.

    This Sunday will feature a similar double-draw, when the most critical moments of the Raptors’ Game 3 will almost certainly overlap with the first half-hour or so of the “Game of Thrones” 80-minute finale.

    But Game 3 is a much different proposition than a deciding Game 7, says Di Nucci, who will risk missing another Raptor moment to watch “Game of Thrones” live with her family.

    “I’m really bad at accidentally spoiling things a lot. It’s not good for me and my friends who hadn’t watched it yet,” she explains, expecting both social media and traditional media to be awash with GoT details Sunday night and Monday morning.

    Despite pronouncements that event television is dead, Di Nucci believes the fear-of-missing-out drives many to the tube, often with friends and family in tow.

    And anyway, the advent of time-shifting and on-demand viewing has addressed remote control battles that would have split family viewing just a few years ago, adds sports fan Keith Morris.

    “I’m in my thirties and I remember back then Dad would have been downstairs watching the game and somebody else that was into the show would have been upstairs,” he says, noting screens are also more likely to run simultaneously in the same room.

    “But now with technology you can kind of do it all.”

    This Sunday, Morris will be at his friend’s condo with about 10 others for what’s primarily considered a GoT finale party. But the game will be on, and he expects most guests to trickle in during the second quarter.

    It’ll be especially hard to avoid Raptors fever when they return home Sunday, even with a “Game of Thrones” finale, he predicts.

    “The city is definitely on fire. We have a chance this year,” says the Missouri-born Morris, also devoted to watching the St. Louis Blues chase the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

    Raptors fan Heba Habib of Pickering, Ont., says the choice isn’t hard for her, since Crave makes “Game of Thrones” available as soon as it airs on HBO at 9 p.m. ET. Generally speaking, she ignores linear broadcast.

    “I’ve never really watched television live. I normally watch on-demand, or I watch whenever I have the time. It’s only live games that I normally watch (live),” says Habib, who’ll join a dozen friends to watch Sunday’s game, followed by “Game of Thrones.”

    She says her parents will stay home to focus on the game. 

    Indeed, the proliferation of mass media has actually made the notion of mass consumption less and less the reality, says York University film professor John McCullough.

    “That’s the contradictory thing,” he chuckles. “It seems we have more mass media at our disposal nowadays but in fact the way that mass media (and) content is produced is actually (encouraging) fragmented audiences.”

    That was certainly the case last week for Di Nucci, who watched the Raptors with her sister and parents on the living room TV until she and her father commandeered the set for “Game of Thrones.”

    Her mom and sister were relegated to an upstairs bedroom to finish the game between the Raptors and visiting Philadelphia 76ers. Di Nucci soon realized that was a mistake “based on their yelling and running around.”

    “The timing was not great, right? sighs the 21-year-old.

    “I wish I saw Kawhi’s last shot live. I wish I saw it in the moment, but it happens. It happens. I’ll be there for the next one. I’ll be there for the next big win.”

    Bell Media says “Game of Thrones” has been averaging 2.5 million viewers each week in its Sunday 9 p.m. ET time slot, with no indication that fans delayed viewing habits for the Raptors.

    Sportsnet says last Sunday’s Game 7 attracted an average audience of 2.2 million viewers, a big jump over a typical game. A peak audience of 3.8 million tuned in to catch Leonard’s buzzer-beater.

    If Di Nucci had another screen available at the time, she expects she would have caught Leonard’s shot but she was using her phone to text a friend during “Game of Thrones,” which was being streamed to the television via her laptop.

    There’s no escaping spoilers when a popular entertainment juggernaut captivates social media, says Meg Wheeler of Toronto. For that reason, “Game of Thrones” trumps all viewing, and did so last Sunday when she convinced her partner to switch from Game 7 to watch the series live.

    “We are both so active on Twitter that we know it’ll get spoiled if we don’t watch it live,” says the 28-year-old, admitting to some regret for missing Leonard’s shot.

    “I don’t feel it was that big of a deal — I’ve seen it now so many times replayed — but there is something special about seeing it happen live. It’s one of those things where you would remember where you were when it happened.”

    Habib, meanwhile, has worked out key house rules for watching a delayed “Game of Thrones”: “Nobody can go on social media.”

    “We’re good. As long as it’s not a blowout, we will always watch Raptors first,” she says.

    Being respectful is key, adds Morris, citing past experience in asserting the difficulty of reading online leaks without spoiling the fun for others.

    “If they’re searching through Twitter or people are live tweeting and they’re reading it and they’re getting spoiled, you can kind of read on their face what’s going on,” he says.

    “That’s when we decided to say: ‘Everyone put your phones on the table and turn them over and for 20 minutes let’s just watch the rest of this game and be present in this Toronto moment.'”

    Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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    Rolling Stones to make single Canadian stop in Ontario on North American tour

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  • NEW YORK — The Rolling Stones are ready to get back on the road in North America after postponing their tour because Mick Jagger needed medical treatment.

    The rockers announced Thursday the No Filter tour will kick off in Chicago with two shows on June 21 and 25.

    The band will then make a stop in Canada for a June 29 concert at the outdoor Burl’s Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte, Ont., about 30 kilometres north of Barrie.

    All the cities previously postponed are locked in and there’s a new date in New Orleans.

    Tickets sold for the original dates will be honoured, but those who can’t attend can get refunds by accessing their Ticketmaster accounts.

    The group says in a statement the concerts will feature classic hits such as “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Paint It Black.”

    The No Filter Tour was slated to start April 20 in Miami. However, doctors told the 75-year-old Jagger in late March he couldn’t go on tour.

    The Associated Press

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