CHICAGO — A jury has completed deliberations for the day in the trial of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett on charges he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself nearly three years ago and then lied to Chicago police about it.
The jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday before breaking for the day after a roughly one-week trial. They will return Thursday morning.
During the trial two brothers testified that Smollett recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago in January 2019. They said Smollett orchestrated the hoax, telling them to put a noose around his neck and rough him up in view of a surveillance camera, and that he said he wanted video of the hoax made public via social media.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of a real hate crime, telling jurors “there was no hoax.” He called the brothers “liars” and said the $3,500 check he wrote for them was for meal and workout plans. His attorneys argued that the brothers attacked the actor — who is gay and Black — because they are homophobic and didn’t like “who he was.” They also alleged the brothers made up the story about the attack being staged to get money from Smollett, and that they said they wouldn’t testify against him if Smollett paid them each $1 million.
The jury on Wednesday asked Judge James Linn for a copy of a calendar that prosecutors displayed at trial that indicates relevant days, including the day of the attack, the day they say Smollett and the brothers had a “dry run.”
In his closing argument Wednesday, special prosecutor Dan Webb told the jury that what Smollett did caused Chicago police to spend enormous resources investigating an alleged crime that turned out to be fake. Smollett, who is Black and gay, told police someone put a noose around his neck and yelled racist and homophobic slurs.
“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” Webb said.
He also accused Smollett of lying to jurors, saying surveillance video from before the alleged attack and that night contradicts key moments of Smollett’s testimony.
“At the end of the day, he lacks any credibility whatsoever,” Webb said
Defense attorney Nenye Uche said in his closing argument that the brothers are “sophisticated liars,” adding that during testimony last week one of the brothers “said ‘I don’t recall’ so many times, it is ridiculous.”
“The entire prosecution’s case, including the foundation of the case, is built like a house of cards,” Uche said.
Taking the witness stand this week, Smollett repeatedly denied the attack was a fake. He described how he was the victim of a hate crime while walking in his neighborhood early on Jan. 29, 2019.
Smollett testified that he was returning home from buying a sandwich around 2 a.m. when someone yelled a racist, homophobic remark that referenced the TV show “Empire.” The person also shouted something about “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” The slogan also had been scrawled on some hate mail, featuring a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose, that Smollett had received at the “Empire” set, he testified.
Smollett said when he turned to confront the person, a man hit him in the head and he fell to the ground, where he said another man kicked him before the attackers ran away. Smollett said he noticed a rope, like a noose, around his neck after the attack. When he returned home, a friend called Chicago police, something Smollett said he wouldn’t have done because as a Black man he doesn’t trust police.
Uche told the jury that one of the brothers, Olabingo Osundairo, posted homophobic slurs on social media. He also recalled that Abimbola Osundairo testified he went to a bathhouse with Smollett but denied any sexual relationship. Smollett later testified that the men performed sex acts together at the bathhouse. Uche suggested suggested Olabingo’s homophobia and Abimbola’s “self-hatred” were motives for their attack.
Another possible motive, Uche said, was that Abimbola Osundairo wanted to be hired as Smollett’s security.
“These guys want to make money,” he said.