Jussie Smollett Takes the Stand at His Disorderly Conduct Trial
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Actor Jussie Smollett took the stand at his trial on Monday to tell jurors his side of the story about a 2019 attack that police and prosecutors say was a hoax he orchestrated, but that his defense team insists was real.
Legal experts are divided on whether Smollett’s testimony in his own defense could help or hurt his case.
Smollett faces six counts of disorderly conduct, accused of staging a fake hate crime attack against himself, and then lying to police about it.
Smollett, who is Black and gay, had told police he was attacked as he was walking home on Lower North Water Street around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019. He claimed two masked men – one of them also wearing a red hat – shouted racist and homophobic slurs as they beat him, put a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical on him. Police and prosecutors have said Smollett orchestrated it himself, paying two brothers – Abel and Ola Osundairo – $3,500 to help stage the attack.
Smollett began his testimony by telling jurors about his family, and their various jobs, as jurors were shown family photos. Smollett also told the jury about working as a child actor, including one of his first roles in the 1992 film The Mighty Ducks, although he said he was not a star.
Smollett said he did not grow up rich, and worked jobs in retail, and as a clown at birthday parties.
The actor later told jurors how he landed a role on the Fox show Empire, on which he was starring at the time of the attack. Smollett said his older sister had sent him an idea for creator Lee Daniels’ idea for the show, and he really wanted the role of Jamal Lyon, a gay singer, sending Daniels a message why he would be a perfect fit for the role.
Smollett testified he earned $27,000 to $28,000 per episode for 10 episodes in the show’s first season. He said he was able to renegotiate his contract at the end of the second season, saying at the time “it was the biggest show on television.” After that, he earned $80,000 per episode in season 3, $90,000 per episode in season 4, and $100,000 per episode in season 5, the season when he was fired from the show after he was first charged with staging the attack in January 2019.
Smollett also testified about meeting Abel Osundairo at a club during season 4 of Empire, telling the jury he and Osundairo did drugs together in the bathroom.
“I always have weed on me … well, not now,” Smollett testified, “And he (Abel) had the cocaine.”
Smollett said the two later went to a bathhouse in Boystown, where gay pornography was displayed on television screens. He said he had never been to the bathhouse before, but got a private room with Abel, where the two “did more drugs and made out.”
He also testified that, after that, he and Abel would regularly drive around and smoke weed together.
Asked if he regretted his drug use, Smollett said, “Yes, I’m sitting in court in front of a jury and my mom explaining it. Of course.”
Defense attorney Nenye Uche was apparently trying to debunk the prosecution’s theory that Smollett met with the Osundairo brothers a few days before the attack for a “dry run” of the attack. Smollett’s car was caught on camera picking up Abel and driving back to the scene of the reported attack, and his defense team sought to establish it was normal for the two of them to drive around and smoke pot.
While Smollett described a friendly and romantic relationship with Abel Osundairo, he said he felt weird around Abel’s brother, Ola, saying he wouldn’t talk to Smollett when they were together.
“He didn’t like me or he wasn’t feeling me–it’s fine,” Smollett said.
Smollett’s defense team has sought to paint Ola Osundairo as homophobic, suggesting that as a motive for the brothers to really attack Smollett.
Before Smollett took the stand on Monday, jurors also heard from Sheraton Hotel security guard Anthony Moore, who was working at the hotel on the night of the incident.
Moore testified that, around the time of the attack, he saw a white man in a ski mask running past him, followed by a second man, who he didn’t get a good look at. He then saw a third person from a distance.
When questioned by the defense, Moore wad adamant he saw a white man.
However, the two men accused of beating Smollett — the Osundairo brothers — are both Black, and no one has disputed they were the ones who attacked Smollett; the only real question at trial is whether or not Smollett paid them to stage it.
If Smollett takes the stand, his testimony would come after the special prosecutor called the Osundairo brothers to the witness stand on Thursday.
Abel Osundairo returned to the witness stand, and his brother Ola also testified in the trial, with both claiming that Smollett asked and paid them to stage a racist and homophobic attack against him.
In a series of bombshell questions, attorneys for Smollett suggested that Abel Osundairo had a secret romantic relationship with Smollett. Abel denied those claims, and he kept his composure as attorneys peppered with questions about his character.
Their statements came as drama mounted in the courtroom with defense attorney Tamara Walker asking for a mistrial because of a comment Judge James Linn made.
Walker began crying and accused judge Linn of physically lunging at her in the courtroom during a sidebar conversation.
The jury was not present when the purported lunge took place, so it will not have an effect on the trial.
CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said he has never heard an attorney make such allegations against a judge.
Judge Linn denied the allegations and request for a mistrial.
The jury is expected to get the case Monday or Tuesday.
This story was originally published by CBS 2 Chicago on Dec. 6, 2021.
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