Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building on 29 November, 2021, in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty/ Scott Olson)
On the first day of Jussie Smollett’s trial for allegedly staging a hate crime against himself, his lawyer told the court he “is a real victim” of a “real crime”.
On Monday (29 November), Smollett’s trial began at the Leighton Criminal Court in Chicago, Illinois. He is accused of six felony disorderly conduct charges over the alleged hoax, which could carry a prison sentence of three years, but the former Empire actor is sticking with his story.
According to The Independent, His defence attorney Nenye Uche told the court in his opening statement that there was not a “shred” of evidence against the actor, and declared: “Jussie Smollett is a real victim.”
Smollett claims that he was attacked in January 2019 by two white Donald Trump supporters in ski masks, who used homophobic and racist slurs, poured bleach on him, and looped a noose around his neck.
Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, brothers who had worked on Empire as extras and who are both Black, were later arrested after they were seen on surveillance footage purchasing a ski masks, gloves and a red hat ahead of the alleged attack.
But the brothers later claimed that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack.
In court, Smollett’s defence said that he had paid the brothers the money, but that it had been for personal training services while he prepared for a music video. Uche painted the brothers as unreliable and insisted it didn’t add up that Smollett would pay by cheque for the allegedly staged attack.
He said: “At the end of the day they want you to believe Jussie was stupid enough to pay for a hoax with a cheque but was smart enough to pay [for supplies] with a $100 bill.”
Uche also said that in the hundreds of pages of police reports was a witness statement from a local resident, who said they had seen a white man with “reddish brown hair” in the area that night, and “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope”.
The prosecution accused Jussie Smollett of ‘devising a fake hate crime’
Special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was instated after initial charges against Smollett in 2019, told the court: “When he reported the fake hate crime that was a real crime.”
Webb said that Smollett had “devised this fake crime” because he was unsatisfied with his studio’s response to a threatening letter he had received around a week before.
Smollett received the “poison pen” style letter at the studio where Empire was filming, and it included a death threat and a drawing of a man hanging from a tree. The return address was listed simply as “MAGA”.
Webb told the court that police had not determined who wrote the letter.
The special prosecutor accused Smollett of holding a “dress rehearsal” of the attack with brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, and said he gave them cash to buy supplies.
He added that surveillance footage showed the actor walking back to his apartment with a clothes line around his neck after the “attack”, still holding a sandwich he bought earlier.
The trial is expected to last one week, although it is not clear if Smollett will testify. On Tuesday (30 November), a Chicago Police Department officer will take the stand.