CHICAGO — A jury began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett on charges he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself nearly three years ago then lied to Chicago police about it.
The deliberations began after a roughly one-week trial in which 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 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.
Smollett’s defense attorney told jurors Wednesday that charges the former “Empire” actor faked an anti-gay, racist attack on himself and lied to police about it rely on the testimony of brothers who are “sophisticated liars” and “the worst type of criminals.”
Attorney Nenye Uche said in his closing argument that during testimony last week in the Chicago courtroom, 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.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb told the jury earlier Wednesday that the evidence against Smollett is “overwhelming,” and that what he did in January 2019 caused Chicago police to spend enormous amounts of time and 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.
The jury in Smollett’s trial is expected to begin deliberating later Wednesday whether Smollett is guilty on six counts of a low-level felony for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack. He faces one count of felony disorderly conduct for each time he gave a report to three different officers.
Taking the witness stand this week, Smollett repeatedly denied the attack was a fake, telling a prosecutor “there was no hoax on my part” and that two brothers who testified against him are “liars.”
Smollett called the Osundairo brothers’ testimony that he paid them $3,500 to carry out the fake attack “100% false,” and described how he was the victim of a hate crime while walking in his neighborhood early on Jan. 29, 2019. He also testified that a $3,500 check he wrote for Abimbola Osundairo was for meal and workout plans because he was trying to get toned for an upcoming music video.