Jussie Smollett testified Monday at his trial, accused of orchestrating a racist and anti-gay attack on himself and lying to Chicago police about it.
The actor, best known for the TV series ‘Empire’, has come forward with his version of what happened in January 2019 in an attempt to refute the damaging testimony of two brothers who testified last week. The two said Smollett, who is gay and black, orchestrated the prank for publicity, giving them $100 for supplies and paying them $3,500 to put a noose around his neck and shout homophobic slurs.
Defense attorneys suggested the brothers, who are black, were motivated to accuse Smollett of masterminding the scheme because they didn’t like him and then saw an opportunity to make money. They suggested that after the brothers, Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, were questioned by police about the alleged attack, they asked Smollett for $1 million each not to testify against him at trial.
Smollett’s attorneys also argued that Chicago police rushed to judgment when they brought charges against Smollett and that a third party may have been involved in the attack.
During his testimony on Monday, Smollett told jurors how he grew up in a close family of six children and started acting like a kid before delving deeper into music. He said he came to terms with his sexuality in his early twenties when he got involved in charity work, including a group that fights AIDS in the black community.
He said he auditioned for a role in “Empire” as a gay singer because he had never seen a black man portrayed that way. For the fifth season, Smollett said he was paid $100,000 per episode.
Smollett said he met Abimbola Osundairo in 2017 at a club, where he learned that Osundairo had also worked on the set of “Empire”. He said the two got high together and went to a public restroom, where Smollett said they “kissed”. Over time, he said the two men used more drugs and engaged in sex acts together. Osundairo testified last week that he and Smollett did not have sex.
Smollett testified that he had met Abimbola’s brother, Olabingo, but they did not speak to each other and he was a little afraid of him. He said Abimbola Osundairo made it look like they needed to “sneak” when they were around his brother together. Smollett said he never trusted Olabingo Osundairo.
Prosecutors say Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with the “Empire” studio’s response to the hate mail it received. The letter included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a noose with a gun pointed at him and the word “MAGA,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” be big). The Osundairo brothers testified that Smollett told them to shout “this is MAGA country” during the fake assault.
Brett Mahoney, who produced “Empire” in Chicago, testified earlier Monday that Smollett called him after he sent hate mail on set.
“Obviously we were all very upset with the letter,” Mahoney said, adding that police were contacted and the letter was turned over to authorities. He said Smollett agreed to add security on set but didn’t want anyone following him home because he found it too intrusive.
Also on Monday, security guard Anthony Moore said at the time of the alleged assault he saw a person on the ground at the end of the block and two men running, one of whom was white. Moore said he told police what he saw, but when later questioned by the special prosecutor, he felt compelled to change his story. Moore testified that he signed a statement saying the person was “possibly” a black man, but felt “pressured and threatened to post something that I hadn’t seen.”
During questioning, Moore said he only saw the man for a second or two. He also said he thought the men were joking and they were both laughing as they ran past him.
Smollett, 39, faces six counts of disorderly conduct for what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack, and one count for each time he made a report , to three different agents. The crime carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, but experts have said that if Smollett is found guilty, he will likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.