Defense rests after Jussie Smollett repeatedly denies ‘hoax’
CHICAGO (AP) — Jussie Smollett on Tuesday repeatedly denied he staged a racist, anti-gay attack on himself for publicity, telling a prosecutor as the trial neared its end that “there was no hoax on my part” and that two brothers who testified against him are “liars.”
Lawyers for the former “Empire” actor rested their case shortly after Smollett finished a second day of testimony at the Chicago courthouse on charges he lied to police about the January 2019 attack. Prosecutors said they had no other witnesses to call, and Judge James Linn scheduled closing arguments for Wednesday.
On Monday, Smollett called the Osundairo brothers’ testimony that he paid them $3,500 to carry out the fake attack “100% false,” and described how he was the victim of a hate crime while walking in his downtown Chicago neighborhood. He also testified that the $3,500 check to Abimbola Osundairo was for meal and workout plans because he was trying to get toned for an upcoming music video.
Under cross-examination by special prosecutor Dan Webb, Smollett said Tuesday that a few days before the alleged attack he picked up Abimbola Osundairo in his car to go workout and that Osundairo’s brother, Olabingo Osundairo, came along. Smollett denied the brothers’ earlier testimony that they drove around together – circling the area where the alleged attack occurred three times – as part of a “dry run” for the fake assault. He said circling the area was not unusual behavior for him, and that he called off the plan to work out because he didn’t want to work out with Olabingo Osundairo, whom he hadn’t invited along.
Smollett, who was calm throughout hours of testimony with his defense attorney Monday, seemed to grow more irritated during his exchanges with Webb on Tuesday, at one point telling the veteran prosecutor he doesn’t understand the social media app Instagram. Webb’s cross-examination also revealed some inconsistencies in Smollett’s testimony, including about whether he sent private messages to confirm the timing of the alleged attack and whether his attackers were white, as police say Smollett told them.
When Webb asked Smollett if he sent private messages regarding the timing of the fake attack to Abimbola Osundairo using the app on the night of the alleged attack Smollett responded, “there was no fake attack” and denied sending the messages. After Webb showed Smollett four messages that Smollett sent Abimbola Osundairo that night while the actor was at an airport because his flight home to Chicago was delayed, Smollett told Webb: “If you say so, sir.”
In the final message – sent at 12:41 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019, or about 90 minutes before the alleged attack – Smollett told Osundairo that he had finally made it home. Smollett testified he was sending the messages to arrange a workout session, not a fake attack.
In his Monday testimony, Smollett said he was returning home from getting a sandwich around 2 a.m. when someone yelled a racist, homophobic remark that referenced the TV show “Empire.” The person also shouted something about “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” The slogan also had been scrawled on a piece of hate mail – that included a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose – that Smollett had received earlier at the “Empire” set, he testified.
Smollett said when he turned to confront the person, a man hit him in the head and he fell to the ground, where he said another man kicked him before the attackers ran away. Smollett said he noticed a rope, like a noose, around his neck after the attack. When he returned home, a friend called Chicago police, something Smollett said he wouldn’t have done because as a Black man he doesn’t trust police.
Asked by Webb Tuesday whether he’s saying the brothers were his attackers, Smollett replied, “No, I don’t know. There’s no way for me to know that.” Webb then asked if Smollett recognized the voice of Abimbola Osundairo – who goes by Bola – during the incident.
“In that moment, I’m not going to stop and say, ‘Hey Bola is that you?’” Smollett testified.
The brothers testified last week the fake attack was Smollett’s idea, and that he gave them $100 to buy supplies including a rope to tie a noose around his neck, and directed them to yell racial and gay slurs and “MAGA.”
Smollett also said of the Osundairo brothers’ testimony that he staged the attack: “They are liars.”
Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack — one count for each time he gave a report — to three different officers. The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.