Story at a glance

  • Actor Jussie Smollett is on trial for allegedly faking a hate crime against himself back in 2019.
  • He faces six counts of disorderly conduct which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.
  • Lawyers for Smollett allege he did not orchestrate the hate crime and that there’s no forensic or physical evidence tying him to the attack.

Actor Jussie Smollett’s trial began this week in Chicago and as jurors consider whether Smollett lied about an alleged hate crime that took place back in 2019, lawyers from both sides sparred over the facts.

AP


39-year-old Smollett, who is Black and gay, is being charged with faking a hate crime that took place in Chicago in 2019 when he allegedly hired two men to yell racial and homophobic slurs at him. Smollett alleges that the two men hit him, tied a noose around his neck and yelled, “this is MAGA country,” a reference to former President Trump’s campaign slogan, make America great again.

The case has been riddled with controversy as initially it was being handled by Chicago’s Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, which ended up dropping charges against Smollett. After massive public outcry, special prosecutor Dan Webb was assigned to handle the case. He promptly brought an indictment against Smollett in February 2020.

Smollett’s trial began on Monday and lawyers from both sides didn’t hold back on the alleged hate crime’s intent, with Webb arguing Smollett was seeking attention after he received a lukewarm response from his studio regarding a hate letter he received. Smollett was an actor in the TV show “Empire,” which was filmed in Chicago.


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Webb said that Smollett decided to hire brothers Bola and Ola Osundairo to stage a fake hate crime against him, saying “​​I want you to fake beat me up," according to local news.

Webb’s team continued to argue that Smollett and the Osundairo brothers exchanged at least five phone calls and about 50 text and Instagram messages in the days leading up to the incident. Surveillance video also showed Smollett picking up the Osundairo brothers in his car and driving to conduct a rehearsal of the attack.

"It's just plain wrong for Mr. Smollett to denigrate something as serious as a hate crime," Webb said.

The defense countered Webb’s arguments by saying the alleged attack did in fact take place and left Smollett bruised and battered, including with a noose around his neck. According to local news, Smollett’s attorney Nenye Unche called the Osundairo brothers, "sophisticated, highly intelligent criminals," and said their apartment had, "weapons of war," including multiple guns, ammunition, and heroin.

Uche also argued there was no physical or forensic evidence tying Smollett to the alleged attack, and that there was no evidence Smollett was upset with his career on “Empire,” according to The Chicago Tribune.

“Jussie was not a person who liked attention. Even his publicist was frustrated at him for that,” Uche said. “It’s fantasy." 

A key factor in the case will be the testimony of the Osundairo brothers, who, according to local news, admitted to Chicago police that the hate crime had been faked. The brothers said that Smollett convinced them to stage the attack, hoping it would stir more action from his bosses at “Empire.” 

The brothers also filed a defamation suit against two of Smollett’s attorneys in 2019, shortly after news of the hate crime being staged surfaced. The suit alleges that Smollett’s attorneys made false and harmful allegations about the brothers to the public in order to distract from Smollett’s own guilt. They also claim the comments have impacted both brothers’ careers, having lost talent agent contracts and career opportunities.

Smollett has pleaded not guilty to six counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. His trial is scheduled to take about a week.


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Published on Nov 30, 2021