By DON BABWIN and SARA BURNETT
CHICAGO (AP) – Jussie Smollett “is a real victim” of a “real crime,” his lawyer said during the trial of the former “Empire” actor on Monday, despite prosecutors’ allegations that he staged a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche said two brothers attacked Smollett in January 2019 because they did not like him and that a check the actor paid the men was for training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video. Uche also suggested that a third striker was involved.
“Jussie Smollett is a real victim,” Uche told jurors in a Chicago courtroom.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. The AP’s past history follows below.
CHICAGO (AP) – Jussie Smollett staged a racist and homophobic assault and told police he was the victim after the TV studio where he worked did not take hate letters he had received seriously, a prosecutor said during opening statements in the past ” empire”. ”Actor trial Monday.
Smollett has maintained that he was attacked in downtown Chicago in January 2019 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, a report that ignited political and ideological divisions around the country. But Special Prosecutor Dan Webb said the actor recruited two brothers to help him carry out the fake attack, and then reported it to Chicago police, who classified it as a hate crime and spent 3,000 hours working on the investigation.
“When he reported the false hate crime, it was a real crime,” said Webb, who was named special prosecutor after Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped the original charges against Smollett. A new indictment was returned in 2020.
Smollett, who arrived at the Chicago courthouse on Monday along with his mother and other family members, is charged with aggravated disorder. The Class 4 crime carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted, he will be put on probation and may be ordered to perform community service.
Webb told jurors that the two brothers – who worked on the “Empire” set with Smollett – say the actor paid them $ 3,500 to pose as his attackers after he was unhappy with how the studio handled the letter he received. That letter contained a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree and “MAGA,” a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan, Webb said.
He said Smollett then fabricated the fake attack and had a “dress rehearsal” with the two brothers, including telling them to shout racial and homophobic slander and “MAGA”. Smollett also asked the brothers to buy ski masks, red hats and a rope, Webb told jurors.
“He told them to use a rope to make it look like a hate crime,” Webb said.
The 12 jurors plus three deputies were sworn in late Monday for a trial that Judge James Linn said he expects will take about a week. Cameras are not allowed in the courtroom and the trial will not be livestreamed, unlike in other recent high-profile trials.
Whether Smollett, who is black and gay, will testify is still an open question. But siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will occupy the witness stand and are expected to repeat what they have told police officers and prosecutors: that they carried out the attack at Smollett’s instigation.
Jury members can also watch surveillance videos from more than four dozen cameras that police have reviewed to track the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers buying a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty shop hours earlier .
Smollett’s lawyers have not specified how they will confront this evidence. Attorney Nenye Uche declined to comment prior to this week’s cases. But there are traces of how they can during the trial.
Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from a resident of the area who says she saw a white man with “maroon hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, “she could see hanging out from under his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”
Her comments could support Smollett’s claim that his attackers draped a temporary loop around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements – widely ridiculed because the brothers who come from Nigeria are black – that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked men. attackers.
Since there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements, that they participated in the attack, it is unlikely that Smollett’s lawyers will try to prove that they did not participate. It could lead the defense to claim that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack from the hands of the brothers, perhaps with the help of others who now only implicate the actor so they will not be charged.
The $ 3,500 check could be the key, though Smollett says he wrote it to pay one of the brothers to work as his personal trainer.
“I would assume the defense will go to zero in that,” said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense attorney who is not involved in the case.
What they will almost certainly do is attack the brothers’ credibility and remind jurors that they do not face the same charges as Smollett, despite admitting that they participated in the staged attack.
“Everything Smollett is responsible for, they are responsible for,” said David Erickson, a former state appeals judge who teaches at the Chicago Kent College of Law and is not involved in the case.
Finally, Smollett’s career could come to the fore. Prosecutors could do the same thing then-police superintendent Eddie Johnson did when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: that Smollett believed the attack would win him more fame and a pay rise.
But Lopez said defense attorneys could ask the jury the same question he asked himself.
“How would that help him with anything?” he asked. “He’s already a star.”
Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.