By Derek Lawrence
March 14, 2019 at 11:26 AM EDT

On Thursday, a week after he was indicted on 16 charges of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, Empire star Jussie Smollett appeared in court and entered a plea of not guilty. He will next need to appear in court on April 17.

“The fact of an indictment was not unexpected,” Smollett’s lawyer Mark Geragos said in a statement last week. “We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination. What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie. This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie’s privacy in tampering with his medical records. Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”

Rachel Luna/Getty Images

Speaking exclusively to EW on Wednesday ahead of Empire‘s return to air, showrunner Brett Mahoney says the show and network are letting the legal process “play out” before making a final decision on the 36-year-old actor’s future on the show (he’s already been removed from the season’s final two episodes).

“It’s a matter of trusting the process and allowing the legal process to play out and see where it goes from there,” Mahoney told EW. “And it’s too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn’t have Jussie. We have such a strong ensemble and we have so many stories to tell for all of these fascinating characters that it’s bigger than one character, but it’s too early to think about the show without him.”

On Jan. 29, the 36-year-old actor, who is black and gay, alleges that he was violently attacked by two men, but on Feb. 16, police revealed that new evidence had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” Days later, Smollett was officially charged, with police believing he orchestrated the incident and paid the men, whom he’s connected to through Empire.

For everything we know about the case, go here.

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