Prosecutors have dropped all charges against US actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack.
The Empire actor attended a court hearing in Chicago on Tuesday, where a judge sealed the case.
Mr Smollett, 36, pleaded not guilty this month to 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police.
The black and openly gay actor thanked his supporters outside court after the hearing.
He said: “I have 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’ve been accused of.”
He added: “This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life.”
Mr Smollett vowed he would continue to “fight for the betterment of the lives of marginalised people everywhere”.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said in a statement: “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
But according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago police Supt Eddie Johnson was not briefed on the decision to drop the charges.
He only learned of the surprise move while attending a police academy graduation ceremony, according to the city newspaper.
A police department source told the Sun-Times that Supt Johnson was “furious” and that the case against Mr Smollett was “rock solid.”
Mr Smollett voluntarily agreed to give up his $10,000 (£7,500) bail money, his lawyer said, emphasising there had been no deal with state prosecutors to dismiss the charges.
Smollett attorneys Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes said in a statement that their client’s record “has been wiped clean.”
“He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement,” the lawyers said.
“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. The entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion.”
Mr Smollett said he was attacked in the early hours on 29 January in downtown Chicago outside a sandwich shop by two masked men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and put a rope round his neck.
He claimed they shouted: “This is Maga country”, a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, and that at least one of the assailants was white.
But Chicago police said Mr Smollett paid two brothers, both of whom are black, $3,500 to stage the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on the TV show.
His lawyer maintained outside court on Tuesday that the cheque was for nutrition and physical training.
Ms Holmes also alleged that the two Osundairo brothers, who apologised for “their involvement in this situation” earlier this month, were Mr Smollett’s attackers.
“We already know who attacked him,” Ms Holmes told reporters. “The two brothers have said that they attacked him.”
She could not offer a reason as to why the case “seemed to spiral somewhat out of control”, but lambasted Chicago police for not allowing the state to properly look into the incident.
“You should allow investigation, and allow the state to investigate a charge before you go to the press,” Ms Holmes said.
Authorities had also accused Mr Smollett of sending a racist and homophobic letter to himself at a Fox studio beforehand.
The US president lashed out last month at the actor on Twitter, saying, “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA.”
Mr Smollett’s family said in a statement to US media on Tuesday that the actor had been vindicated.
“Jussie is a son, a brother, a partner, a champion for human rights, and a genuine soul who would never be capable of what he was falsely accused of,” said their statement.
“He was the victim of an assault and then falsely blamed for his own attack. This morning truth has prevailed and he has been vindicated.
“All charges have been dismissed and his record expunged (cleared). The painful incidents we’ve witnessed him endure over the past 7 weeks have been heartbreaking and unjust to say the least.
“While many were quick to rush to judgement before hearing the actual truth, we are grateful that the truth about Jussie has come to light.
“We look forward to bringing the real perpetrators to justice. We thank God and our village for standing by us during this trying time.”
Mr Smollett stars as a gay musician on Fox’s drama series Empire, which follows the ups and downs of a family-owned hip-hop label.
The verified Twitter account of the writers’ team on Empire posted a celebratory tweet after Mr Smollett’s court appearance. BBC News