Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
CHICAGO – Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett on Monday denied staging an anti-gay racist attack on himself in downtown Chicago, testifying at his trial that “there was no had a hoax “.
Smollett testified at his trial for lying to Chicago police about the attack in an attempt to refute the damaging testimony of two brothers last week. They said Smollett, who is gay and black, orchestrated the January 2019 hoax to get publicity, giving them $ 100 for supplies and asking them to put a noose around his neck and shout homophobic slurs. . They also said Smollett gave them a check for $ 3,500 to take it.
But Smollett said he wrote the check for $ 3,500 for nutrition and training advice for one of the brothers, Abimbola Osundairo, while he was going to be out of town, not as payment. for Osundairo and his brother to carry out the attack. His lawyer asked him if he had paid Osundairo for some kind of hoax, Smollett replied: “Never”. He also replied “absolutely not” when asked if he had given Osundairo and his brother $ 100 to pay for the hoax supplies.
Smollett also said that Osundairo told him about an herbal steroid that promotes weight loss but is illegal in the United States. .
Osundairo said Smollett texted him – which the jury saw last week – to speak “in a low voice” and that during the conversation, Smollett asked him to help organize the attack. Smollett said on Monday that the post referred to the illegal steroid and that he used language Osundairo had used before.
Defense attorneys suggested the brothers, who are black, were motivated to accuse Smollett of staging the hoax because they didn’t like him and then saw an opportunity to make some money. They suggested that after the brothers, Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, were questioned by police about the alleged attack, they asked Smollett $ 1 million each not to testify against him at trial.
Smollett’s attorneys also argued that Chicago police rushed to pass judgment when they laid charges against Smollett, and suggested that a third person may have been involved in the attack.
On the witness stand on Monday, Smollett told the jury how he grew up in a close-knit family of six and began acting as a child actor before moving more into music. He said he “came to terms with” his sexuality in his early twenties, when he got involved with charities, including a group that fights AIDS in the black community.
He said he auditioned for the role of a gay singer in “Empire” because he had never seen a black man portrayed that way. In season five, Smollett said he was paid $ 100,000 per episode.
Smollett said he met Abimbola Osundairo in 2017 at a club, where he learned that Osundairo was also working on the set of “Empire”. He said the two used drugs together and went to a public bath, where Smollett said they “kissed”. Over time, he said the two men used more drugs and participated in sex acts together. Osundairo said last week that he and Smollett had not had sex.
Smollett said he had met Abimbola’s brother, Olabingo, but they hadn’t spoken and “he freaked me out a bit.” He said Abimbola Osundairo made it seem like they needed to “sneak up” when they were around her brother together. Smollett said he never trusted Olabingo Osundairo.
Prosecutors say Smollett organized the attack because he was dissatisfied with the “Empire” studio’s response to the hate mail he received. The letter included a drawing of a snowman hanging in a noose, with a gun pointed at it, and the word “MAGA” – an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The Osundairo brothers testified that Smollett told them to shout “this is MAGA country” during the mock assault.
Brett Mahoney, who produced “Empire” in Chicago, said earlier Monday that Smollett had called him after sending the hate mail on set.
“We were obviously all very upset with the letter,” Mahoney said, adding that law enforcement had been contacted and the letter had been handed over to authorities. He said Smollett had agreed to add security to the set, but didn’t want anyone to follow him home because he thought it was too intrusive.
Smollett said he thought the studio was doing or suggesting too much security, such as wanting someone to lead him to and from the “Empire” set. He said Abimbola Osundairo joked about becoming his security, but he didn’t take it seriously.
“It wasn’t something that was going to be,” Smollett said.
Also on Monday, security guard Anthony Moore said that at the time of the alleged assault he saw a person on the ground at the end of the block and two men running, one of whom was white. Moore said he told police what he saw, but when later questioned by the special prosecutor he felt compelled to change his story. Moore said he signed a statement saying the person was “maybe” a black man, but felt “pressured and threatened to post something I hadn’t seen.”
In cross-examination, Moore said he only saw the man for one to two seconds. He also said he thought the men were having fun and both men were laughing as they walked past him.
Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of disorderly conduct for doing what prosecutors have called a false police report on the alleged attack – one count for every time he made a report – to three different officers. The Class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is found guilty he will likely be placed on probation and ordered to do community service.