Jussie Smollett’s lawyer says the actor is ‘a real victim’ of the attack

CHICAGO (AP) – Jussie Smollett “is a real victim” of a “real crime,” his lawyer said in opening remarks at the former “Empire” actor’s trial on Monday, dismissing prosecutors’ claim that he staged a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago, after the TV studio where he worked did not take hate letters he had received seriously.

Defense attorney Nenye Uche said two brothers attacked Smollett in January 2019 because they did not like him and that a check for $ 3,500 the actor paid the men were for training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video, not as payment for staging a hate crime, as prosecutors claim. Uche also suggested that a third attacker was involved and told jurors that there is not a “dirt” of physical and forensic evidence linking Smollett to what the crime prosecutor claims.

“Jussie Smollett is a real victim,” Uche said.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb said the actor recruited the brothers to help him carry out a 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. Smollett said he was attacked by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, a report that ignited political and ideological divisions around the country.

“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. ONE 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.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 29: Fhv "empire" Actress Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building for the start of the jury selection in her trial on November 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.  Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported that two masked men physically and verbally attacked him and shouted racist and anti-gay remarks near his home in Chicago in 2019. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 29: Former “Empire” actress Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building for the start of the jury selection in her trial on November 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported that two masked men physically and verbally attacked him and shouted racist and anti-gay remarks near his home in Chicago in 2019. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Scott Olson via Getty Images

Webb told jurors that Smollett 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 – who worked on the “Empire” set with Smollett – 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.

But Uche said Smollett had declined extra security when the studio offered it. He also portrayed the brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, as unreliable, saying their story has changed while Smolletts has not, and that when police searched their homes, they found heroin and weapons.

Twelve 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 will occupy the witness stand.

Jury members can also watch surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras which police went through to track the brothers’ whereabouts before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing supplies hours earlier.

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.

Check out AP’s full coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.

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