Nearly three years after Jussie Smollett reported to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack, the ex-“Empire” actor’s trial started Monday in Chicago.
Smollett’s legal team on Thursday sought to dent the credibility of a star state witness who on Wednesday testified about how the former “Empire” actor recruited him and his brother to stage a racist, homophobic attack on Smollett. The state rested its case against the actor on Thursday.
Judge James Linn told jurors there would be no testimony Friday, saying he expected they would begin deliberations no later than Tuesday.
Smollett, 39, is charged with felony disorderly conduct for what law enforcement and prosecutors believe was a false police report about the alleged attack. The Class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years in prison, but experts say if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.
So far in the trial, Smollett’s attorney has asserted that Smollett was a “real victim” of a “real crime” while a lead investigator detailed how detectives went from thinking the attack was a “horrible hate crime” to concluding the ex-“Empire” actor had staged a hoax.
It remains unclear whether Smollett will testify.
Here is everything that has happened during the trial so far.
Day 4: State rests case, Olabinjo Osundairo describes ‘crazy idea’ to stage hoax
After a three-day presentation of evidence, special prosecutor Dan Webb told the presiding judge Thursday evening that the prosecution was finished. The defense began its case immediately, calling Brandon Moore, Smollett’s music manager at the time.
Olabinjo Osundairo took the stand earlier in the day to echo his brother Abimbola’s testimony the day before that Smollett requested they play assailants in the allegedly staged attack.
Olabinjo said Smollett told him he received hate mail at the TV studio in Chicago “and he had this crazy idea of having two MAGA supporters attack him.” Olabinjo believed the plan was to publicize the attack on social media, not to involve police, he said.
They opted to pour bleach on Smollett, Olabinjo said, because he wasn’t comfortable using gasoline. He said Smollett wanted his brother to do the punching, and that it should look like he fought back.
Olabinjo also addressed the defense’s contention that the brothers were driven by homophobia. He testified that he has nothing against gays and the jury was shown a photo of the siblings taking part in Chicago’s 2015 gay pride parade dressed as trojan warriors.
Olabinjo also denied Smollett’s previous statements, that a white person was ever involved, or that he and his brother even wore masks or makeup to make it appear they were white.
During cross examination, defense attorney Shay Allen asked Abimbola Osundairo, who worked as a stand-in on the Chicago set of “Empire,” if he tried to get a $5,000-per-week job as Smollett’s security and if after he was questioned by police and released he told Smollett he and his brother wouldn’t testify at his trial if they were each paid $1 million. Abimbola responded “No sir” to both.
In follow-up questioning by Webb, Abimbola said he never thought Smollett would go to the police to report the fake attack as a real hate crime. He said Smollett told him that he wanted to use it to generate media attention, and that he has never lied to Chicago police.
Olabinjo told jurors he talked to police without a promise of immunity or under any sort of favorable deal. He added: “It was simply just to get the truth out of what happened that night.”
Smollett’s legal team asked Olabinjo about his previous felony conviction, which he testified Thursday was in 2012, for aggravated battery. As a convicted felon he cannot legally possess a firearm, but police found several guns when they searched their home after the alleged attack. Both brothers agreed the guns belonged to Abimbola.
The defense said the brothers lied about Smollett staging the attack to get out of trouble for possessing the firearms and heroin that was also found in the home.
Day 3: Abimbola Osundairo testifies Smollett asked him, his brother to stage attack
Abimbola Osundairo testified Wednesday that Smollett asked him and his brother, Olabinjo, “to fake beat him up” and instructed them on how to carry out the alleged hoax in January 2019. Smollett planned a “dry run” and gave him a $100 bill to buy supplies for the staged attack, Abimbola said.
Abimbola said he and his brother agreed because he felt indebted to Smollett for helping him with his acting career.
Abimbola said that a few days prior to the attack, Smollett showed him some hate mail he said he received at the “Empire” studio. Jurors viewed the note, which included a drawing of a person hanging by a noose, with a gun pointed at the stick figure and the letters “MAGA.”
He said a few days later Smollett sent him a text message asking to meet up “on the low,” which he took to meet in private about something secret. Abimbola said when they met up, Smollett asked him “to beat him up” and asked if his brother could help.
“I was confused, I look puzzled,” Abimbola said.
Abimbola said that prior to the staged attack, Smollett drove the brothers to the spot where the attack would occur, and they decided the men should throw bleach on Smollett rather than the original plan to use gasoline. He also said Smollett said a camera in the area would record the attack.
He also told jurors Smollett instructed him to punch Smollett but “not too hard.” Once Smollett was on the ground, Abimbola said Smollett said he should give Smollett “a bruise” and “give him a noogie” — or rub his knuckles hard on Smollett’s head.
“He wanted a camera to catch it,” Abimbola said, adding that Smollett said he wanted to use the recording for media purposes.
Abimbola testified that he and his brother had difficulty identifying a good spot for the staged attack, walking around in the early morning of that Jan. 29 in weather that Abimbola described as “colder than penguin feet.”
According to Abimbola, when the brothers spotted Smollett at around 2 a.m., Abimbola — as instructed earlier by Smollett — shouted a homophobic slur and his brother yelled, “this is MAGA country.”
After punching Smollett in the face and throwing the actor to the ground, they put a noose around his neck and threw bleach on him, then ran away, Abimbola told jurors.
The next morning, as news broke of a hate crime against Smollett, Abimbola said he texted a note of condolence to Smollett, also as instructed. It read: “Bruh, say it ain’t true. I’m praying for speedy recovery.”
Abimbola testified that Smollett gave him a check for $3,500 and wrote on it that it was for a nutrition and workout program. But Abimbola said the money was both for the program and for helping to stage the attack.
Earlier Wednesday, a Chicago police detective Kimberly Murray testified that Smollett appeared “upset” when he was told that a surveillance camera did not record the alleged assault because it was pointed away from the scene. Murray said she explained to the actor that the cover on the pod camera makes it impossible to know which way it is pointing.
Murray, who interviewed Smollett the morning of the attack, said he told her he had received a threatening phone call days earlier, but he refused to hand over his cellphone, which the detective said could help police piece together a timeline of what happened, and he wouldn’t consent to giving medical records or a DNA swab.
A detective who interviewed Smollett two weeks after the alleged assault — and after the brothers had been arrested — said Smollett started to change his story. Smollett told Robert Graves his attacker had “pale skin,” when he previously saidthat one was white. When Graves confronted Smollett about the discrepancy, Smollett said the attacker “acted like he was white by what he said.”
Graves also told Smollett the two brothers were in custody for the hate crime. “He said ‘It can’t be them, they’re black as sin,’ ” Graves recounted, saying he took that to mean the brothers’ skin is very dark.
Graves testified that during the Feb. 14 interview, Smollett said he would sign a complaint against the brothers, though his attorney stopped him from doing so. About 90 minutes later, Smollett sent one of the brothers a text message, Graves said.
“Brother… I love you. I stand with you,” the message read. “I know 1000% you and your brother did nothing wrong and never would. I am making a statement so everyone else knows. They will not get away with this. Please hit me when they let you go. I’m behind you fully.”
Graves said he concluded Smollett had lied to him.
Day 2: Prosecutors recount how Smollett orchestrated a hoax
Prosecutors’ case against Smollett focused on how Chicago police say they determined that what they initially believed was a horrific hate crime was actually a fake assault staged by the ex-“Empire” actor with help from the Osundairo brothers.
Taking the stand as prosecutors began their case against Smollett, former police detective Michael Theis said he initially viewed the actor as a victim of a homophobic and racist attack and that police “absolutely” didn’t rush to judgment as Smollett’s defense attorney alleged during opening statements Monday.
Theis, who now is assistant director for research and development for the Chicago Police Department, said roughly two dozen detectives clocked some 3,000 hours on what they thought was a hate crime in January 2019. He said they were excited when they were able to track the movements of Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, using GPS, cell phone records and video evidence. Police found no instance where they concluded the men were lying, he added.
“The crime was a hate crime, a horrible hate crime,” Theis said Tuesday, noting Smollett — who is Black and gay — reported that his attackers put a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him. He said the case had become national and international news and that “everybody from the mayor on down” wanted it solved, a reference to then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Theis said Smollett declined to provide his medical records related to the attack or a cheek swab so investigators could compare it to DNA that may have been on a rope Smollett said the attackers put around his neck.
“At the end of the investigation, we determined that the alleged hate crime was actually a staged event,” Theis said.
Muhammad Baig, the first officer on the scene after Smollett’s manager reported the attack, said he asked the actor if he wanted to take the rope off his neck and “he responded by saying that he’d like to take it off but he wanted us to see it first.” He also said Smollett asked officers to turn off their body-worn cameras, which they did.
Jurors were also shown surveillance video Tuesday of the brothers buying supplies, including a red hat they told police Smollett wanted them to wear to resemble supporters of then-President Donald Trump, and a piece of clothesline police said was later fashioned into the noose. Jurors also saw a still image from a video that Theis said showed Smollett returning home the night of the alleged attack, with the clothesline draped around his shoulders. The clothesline was wrapped around his neck when officers arrived, Theis said, leading detectives to believe Smollett may have re-tied it.
On Monday, Uche also suggested that a third attacker was involved. One area resident said she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night, according to police reports. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”
Uche referenced the woman during his cross-examination of Theis, and Theis acknowledged that he saw that statement but did not send a detective to re-interview her. He said the woman had seen the man a few hours before the alleged attack and that “the rope was a different color.”
Uche also suggested the brothers were homophobic, asking Theis on cross-examination about a homophobic word one of the brothers used. Theis said there was a message containing a slur but that he doesn’t know if that makes the man homophobic. Uche also asked Theis if he was aware one of the brothers attacked someone at the TV studio because he was gay.
“One individual said it happened, but I don’t know that it happened,” Theis said.
Day 1: Smollett’s attorney says actor is a ‘real victim’
Smollett’s defense attorney Nenye Uche said Monday that Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo attacked Smollett because they didn’t like him and that a $3,500 check the actor paid the men was for training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video – not as payment for staging a hate crime, as prosecutors allege. Uche also suggested a third attacker was involved and told jurors there is not a “shred” of physical and forensic evidence linking Smollett to the crime prosecutors allege.
“Jussie Smollett is a real victim,” Uche said.
Uche made his opening statement after special prosecutor Dan Webb told jurors that the actor recruited the brothers to help him carry out the fake attack. “When he reported the fake hate crime that was a real crime,” said Webb. Webb also told jurors Smollett was unhappy about how the studio handled the letter he received that included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree and “MAGA.”
Uche countered that Smollett had turned down extra security when the studio offered it.
Webb said Smollett then “devised this fake crime,” holding a “dress rehearsal” with the two brothers, including telling them to shout racial and homophobic slurs and “MAGA.”
He said Smollett wanted the attack captured on surveillance video, but the camera he thought would record the hoax was pointed in the wrong direction. He also said the original plan called for the men to throw gasoline on Smollett but that they opted for bleach instead because it would be safer.
Uche portrayed the brothers as unreliable, saying their story has changed while Smollett’s has not, and that when police searched their home they found heroin and guns. “They are going to lie to your face,” Uche told the jury.
Outside the courtroom, Smollett’s brother said it has been “incredibly painful” for the family to watch Smollett be accused of something he “did not do.”
Contributing: Maria Puente, Hannah Yasharoff, Jayme Deerwester, Pamela Avila and Charles Trepany USA TODAY; Don Babwin, Michael Tarm and Sara Burnett The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jussie Smollett trial updates: State rests case against ‘Empire’ star