Evidence is expected to come down to whether the actor is a liar who subverted justice or a victim who was the victim of a complex hate crime
Jussie Smollett put on an “Empire” performance in which he appeared to be smiling and happy, according to witness testimony and Chicago police. But behind the scenes, Smollett was convinced he was being battered by two strangers who had attacked him, according to his account to detectives, a close friend and a castmate.
After Smollett told detectives the attack had been racially motivated and left him with bruises, the response was as swift as it was scathing: Why couldn’t he be homophobic too? Did he paint himself into a corner to be less believable?
Mark Geragos on Jussie Smollett: ‘He is spinning a big fat lie’ Read more
“He said there’s been hate incidents every day since the election,” the defense attorney Mark Geragos, who represents Smollett, said in court on Friday. He emphasized that his client has been consistent in his account – until he was questioned by Chicago police.
The trial in Chicago on the felony charge of disorderly conduct is set to begin after closing arguments Monday. Both sides will have to persuade a judge to acquit him of a crime or find him guilty of a lesser offense. A jury of seven men and five women will begin deliberations after the trial’s final closing arguments.
A string of allegations
Video footage showed the two men on 2 January as they walked around Chicago’s downtown Loop as Smollett did the same shortly before he gave his interview on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Smollett called police about 36 hours after the attack, saying two strangers beat him and put a rope around his neck. Police had interviewed Smollett again and began looking into his previous account of being attacked.
During Friday’s hearing, Geragos defended his client’s decision to initially plead not guilty, citing the need to hold his interview with ABC.
“Why would Jussie send the message that he sent … and actually live the message he sent?” Geragos asked the judge, referring to the interview. In the interview, Smollett told GMA: “I don’t see my attackers as individuals. I see them as MAGA [Make America Great Again] haters that didn’t like my hairstyle.”
The two suspects have been identified as Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo. A fingerprint recovered at the scene matched that of the younger Osundairo.
Video footage was also shown of Smollett’s friend Tessa Moore, who said the actor’s limp movement suggested the attack was self-inflicted.
“I believe it was self-inflicted, that it wasn’t malicious and it wasn’t hate-motivated,” Moore said in a police interview.
During trial, prosecutors planned to play a recording of Smollett’s iPhone call to police that led to the interview that “helped give investigators new information”, police superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference.
Prosecutors planned to introduce the video footage, witness statements and phone records. Chicago police said that early in the investigation they suspected the attack was staged. But prosecutors’ goal, Joseph McMahon, the Cook County state’s attorney, said Friday, is to prove the actor did not prepare himself for an attack, fight back and falsely accuse two acquaintances of involvement.
Geragos admitted Smollett fabricated the attack to describe himself as a victim of a hate crime, but said that was not a crime. Smollett’s actions, Geragos said, were similar to acts of self-harm like suicide by cutting one’s wrist.
“Jussie Smollett went from victim to alleged defendant all in a week,” Geragos said.
When judge John Fleming told Smollett’s attorneys that they had seen enough evidence for the actor to stand trial, Geragos asked if that meant he would start a jury trial.
Fleming said no.