CHICAGO (AP) – Jussie Smollett “is a real victim” of a “real crime,” his lawyer said as the trial of the ex-actor “Empire” began on Monday, dismissing prosecutors’ claim that he allegedly staged a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago after the television studio where he worked did not take the hate messages he received seriously.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche said two brothers attacked Smollett in January 2019 because they didn’t like him and a check for $ 3,500 the actor paid the men was for training to that he can prepare for an upcoming music video – not as payment for staging a hate crime, as prosecutors claim. Uche also suggested that a third assailant was involved and told jurors there was not a “shred” of physical and forensic evidence linking Smollett to the crimes alleged by prosecutors.
“Jussie Smollett is a real victim,” Uche said.
Uche made his opening statement after Special Prosecutor Dan Webb told jurors the actor recruited the brothers to help him carry out a mock attack and then reported it to Chicago Police, who l classified as a hate crime and spent 3,000 working hours investigating it. Smollett told police he was attacked by supporters of then President Donald Trump, which sparked political divisions across the country.
“When he reported the bogus hate crime, it was a real crime,” said Webb, who was appointed special prosecutor after Cook County State Attorney’s office Kim Foxx dropped the charges. initial charges against Smollett. A new indictment was issued in 2020.
Smollett, who arrived at the Chicago courthouse on Monday with his mother and other family members, is charged with disorderly conduct. The Class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is found guilty he would be placed on probation and possibly ordered to perform community service.
Webb told jurors that Smollett was unhappy with the way the studio handled a letter he received which included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree and “MAGA,” a reference to the Make campaign slogan. America Great Again by Trump. Webb said police had not determined who wrote the letter.
However, Uche countered that Smollett refused additional security when the studio offered it.
Webb said Smollett then “engineered this bogus crime”, holding a “dress rehearsal” with the two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, including telling them to shout racist and homophobic slurs and “MAGA”. Smollett also told the brothers – who worked on the “Empire” set – to buy ski masks, red hats and “a rope to make it look like a hate crime,” Webb told jurors. The brothers used a $ 100 bill Smollett gave them to buy the supplies, Webb said.
He said Smollett wanted the attack captured on surveillance video, but the camera he thought was recording the hoax was pointed in the wrong direction. He also said the original plan was for the men to throw gasoline on Smollett, but instead opted for bleach because it would be safer.
Whether Smollett, who is black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the brothers and sisters will take the witness stand.
Uche described the brothers as unreliable, saying their story had changed unlike Smollett’s, and that when police searched their home they found heroin and guns.
“They’re going to lie to you in your face,” Uche told the jury.
Uche also said the evidence “showed enormous haste for the trial of various police officials,” and he said prosecutors’ claim that paying for a fake check attack made no sense. .
“At the end of the day, they want you to believe that Jussie was stupid enough to pay for a hoax with a check, but was smart enough to pay (for supplies) with a $ 100 bill,” he said.
As for Uche’s suggestion that another assailant may have been involved, buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from a local who says he saw a white man with “Reddish brown hair” that seemed to be waiting for someone overnight. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see what appeared to be a rope hanging under her jacket.”
His comments could support Smollett’s claim that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Moreover, if she testified that the man was white, it would corroborate Smollett’s statements – widely ridiculed because the brothers, who are from Nigeria, are black – that he saw the pale or white skin around the eyes of the man. one of his masked attackers.
Twelve jurors and two deputies were sworn in Monday night for a trial which Judge James Linn said is expected to last about a week. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom and the proceedings are not broadcast live, unlike other recent high profile trials.
Jurors can see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police examined to track the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as video showing the brothers buying supplies hours earlier. Webb told jurors prosecutors had hundreds of hours of video and a still shot from a camera near Smollett’s apartment that shows him walking up the stairs after the alleged attack, with a clothesline around his neck and still carrying a sandwich he bought that night.