Actor Jussie Smollett after his court appearance at Leighton Courthouse on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
It’s a spectacularly rough week to be Jussie Smollett. The former Empire actor is currently on trial for the January 2019 case that managed to outrage the nation twice over: once when Smollett told Chicago cops he’d been the victim of a possible hate crime, and then again when city police came forward to allege the 39-year-old had orchestrated the attack to get attention, including from the Empire studio. They accused the gay, Black actor of hiring two brothers to put a noose around his neck and pour bleach on him, all while yelling homophobic and racist slurs.
Prosecutors initially dropped Smollett’s first set of charges over allegedly filing a false report, but he eventually racked up six counts of disorderly conduct, to which he pleaded not guilty. Nearly three years, many twists and turns, and one global pandemic later, Smollett’s case at last appeared before a jury on Monday. But it’s already not looking good for him. Though some experts have said it’s unlikely Smollett will spend any time behind bars for his alleged offenses, the evidence prosecutors have trotted out against him is nonetheless embarrassing.For example, a former police detective testified Tuesday that Smollett and two brothers he’d allegedly paid to jump him planned a “dry run” before the staged attack, according to the Chicago Tribune. At one point, jurors viewed a video showing the brothers picking up rope, masks, and hats, the Tribune reported.
Abimbola Osundairo, one of the two brothers, also testified Wednesday that Smollett told him in late January 2019 that he needed help “on the low,” which turned out to be Smollett’s plea to “fake beat him up”—but not too hard. Osundairo testified that Smollett also allegedly told him to say during the attack, “Empire, f****t, n***er, MAGA,” according to CNN. “He wanted me to tussle and throw him to the ground and give him a bruise while my brother Ola would pour bleach on him and put a rope around him, and then we would run away,” Osundairo said, according to the New York Times. Smollett allegedly gave the brothers $100 to buy the necessary supplies, according to NBC News. And jurors were shown the $3,500 check that Smollett allegedly wrote Osundairo as payment for the attack, too, according to the Chicago Tribune.As part of the plan, Osundairo testified Smollett also instructed him to send the actor a “condolence text.”“Bruh, say it ain’t true. I’m praying for speedy recovery,” he wrote, according to NBC News.A Chicago police detective testified that later, after interviewing Smollett at the hospital and informing him there was no surveillance footage capturing the attack, he seemed dismayed, according to the Chicago Tribune. Osundairo testified that Smollett had wanted the attack documented on video for media purposes.
On the other hand, Nenye Uche, a defense attorney for Smollett, has said that the brothers didn’t like Smollett and are unreliable. The “on the low” text was also not about beating Smollett up but rather a plea for herbal steroids from Nigeria, according to comments another defense attorney made in 2019, according to the New York Times. Also, the check Smollett sent Osundairo was actually for physical training ahead of a music video, the defense has said.“Jussie Smollett is a real victim,” Uche said in his opening statement this week, according to the Associated Press. “At the end of the day, they want you to believe Jussie was stupid enough to pay for a hoax with a check but was smart enough to pay (for supplies) with a $100 bill,” Uche also said of the prosecutors. Prior to the attack, Smollett was allegedly upset that his bosses at Empire didn’t take a threatening letter he’d received featuring a gun and figure hanging from a tree more seriously, according to the Chicago Tribune. (The special prosecutor in the case, Dan Webb, said police never figured out who wrote that message—an “actual hate letter”—according to the New York Times.) Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.