Closing arguments underway in Jussie Smollett’s trial for alleged hoax attack

By Omar Jimenez, Bill Kirkos, Eric Levenson and Steve Almasy, CNN

Chicago (CNN) – Closing arguments began Wednesday morning in Jussie Smollett’s trial, a day after the former “Empire” actor took the stand to rebut allegations that he staged a hoax hate crime and lied to police about it in January 2019.

Smollett, 39, has pleaded not guilty to six counts of disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to police. The charge is punishable by up to three years in prison.

The criminal trial started last week as prosecutors told the jury that Smollett, who is Black and gay, directed two acquaintances — the brothers Bola and Ola Osundairo — to carry out a fake anti-gay and racist attack on a frigid night in Chicago near Smollett’s apartment building. Five police investigators and the Osundairo brothers testified for the prosecution last week.

Defense attorneys called seven witnesses of their own to testify, highlighted by Smollett himself. He testified over about 8 hours Monday and Tuesday he had not planned any such hoax, and that he was actually attacked one night after going out to get a Subway sandwich.

After closing arguments Wednesday morning, the jury will be instructed on the law and then sent to deliberate.

The long road to trial

The trial is the culmination of a case that began when Smollett told police he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in January 2019. Two men allegedly attacked him, called him the n-word, put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him and exclaimed, “This is MAGA country,” according to police.

Celebrities, politicians and advocacy groups rallied behind the actor, and police poured significant resources into solving the case and locating the suspects. But after interviewing the Osundairo brothers — who knew Smollett from the “Empire” show — and finding other evidence, authorities instead determined that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the hate crime so he could get publicity and a career boost.

Smollett has repeatedly denied the allegations and his attorneys have said he paid the brothers to be his trainers.

Smollett was initially indicted on 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct in March 2019. However, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped all charges weeks later, saying he did community service, lost his $10,000 bond and was no danger to the community. He also had no previous felony convictions.

Months after the charges were dropped, a judge appointed a special prosecutor to look into the case and investigate whether Smollett received preferential treatment from the state’s attorney’s office. A grand jury indicted Smollett on new charges in February 2020.

The incident effectively ended Smollett’s acting career. His character was written off “Empire,” which ended in 2020, and though he has since directed and produced a film, he has not appeared on screen again.

Smollett still faces a civil suit from the city that demands reimbursement for the cost of investigating his reported attack. He filed a countersuit in November 2019 that eventually was dismissed.

Key moments in the trial

Brothers Ola and Bola Osundairo arrive at court for a hearing for actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago, Illinois, on July 14.
Brothers Ola and Bola Osundairo arrive at court for a hearing for actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago, Illinois, on July 14.

The stars of the prosecution’s case were the Osundairo brothers, who were extras on the “Empire” TV show. They each testified that Smollett directed them and paid them to stage the attack in an attempt to get media attention.

Bola Osundairo, who was closer to Smollett, told the court that Smollett “wanted me to fake beat him up.” He said he agreed to do so because he felt indebted to the actor.

“I believed he could help further my acting career,” Bola Osundairo testified. “He told me that we would need another person to fake beat him up. He mentioned could my brother do it. I said yes.”

His brother Ola Osundairo told jurors that Smollett “had this crazy idea of having two MAGA supporters attack him,” and that he wanted “to put that on social media.”

“Mr. Smollett asked you to fake attack him?” Deputy Special Prosecutor Sam Mendenhall asked.

“Yes,” Ola Osundairo responded.

Pretending to be Trump supporters?” Mendenhall continued.

“Yes,” Ola Osundairo said.

“So he could then post it on social media?” the prosecutor continued.

“Yes,” Ola Osundairo answered.

As per their plan, the brothers met Smollett at about 2 a.m. by his apartment during a cold snap known as a “polar vortex,” they testified. There, as he had instructed, they yelled “Empire, f****t, n***er, MAGA,” fake punched him, poured bleach on him and put a noose around his neck, they testified.”

If you had not had advanced discussions with Jussie Smollett how would you know where he would be at 2 a.m. in a polar vortex?” special prosecutor Dan Webb asked.

“I wouldn’t,” Bola Osundairo responded.

The defense, however, has repeatedly said Smollett was a real victim of an attack. They have suggested that the brothers were motivated by homophobia and/or an attempt to scare Smollett into hiring them as security.

Smollett took the stand to lay out his version of events. He emphatically said he did not plan the attack ahead of time and said he paid the brothers $3,500 for training and nutritional advice — not for any hoax attack.

“Have you ever planned a hoax?” his attorney asked.

“Never in my life,” Smollett said.

He also cast doubt on the brothers’ true motivations. He said he received a “hate letter” in the mail at the “Empire” studio in Chicago on January 22, 2019, seven days before the alleged attack. Afterwards, Bola Osundairo approached him about becoming his personal security guard, something Osundairo had repeatedly asked him, Smollett testified.

In addition, he testified that he formed a sexual relationship with Bola Osundairo but said he was “creeped out” by Ola Osundairo. Bola Osundairo denied he had any sexual relationship with Smollett.

CNN’s Omar Jimenez and Bill Kirkos reported from Chicago, Eric Levenson and Steve Almasy wrote and reported from New York and Atlanta. Jason Hanna and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.

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