Jussie Smollett trial: Closing arguments set to begin after both sides rest their case

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With the defense and the prosecution resting their respective cases earlier this week, closing arguments are set to begin Wednesday morning in the case against former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett. 

Smollett, who is Black and gay, is accused of staging a racist, homophobic hate crime against himself in downtown Chicago in January 2019. Brothers Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, who worked with the actor on the TV show, claim that he paid them money to carry out the attack and even ran them through a “dry run” of the incident days prior. Smollett, meanwhile, maintains his innocence, testifying on Monday and Tuesday that the brothers are lying. 

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 would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

After both sides wrap up their closing arguments, the jury is then expected to begin deliberating whether Smollett is guilty or innocent. 

Closing arguments are set to begin in the trial of Jussie Smollett.
(Photo by Scott Olson)

Taking the witness stand earlier this week, Smollett repeatedly denied the attack was a fake, telling a prosecutor “there was no hoax on my part” and that two brothers who testified against him are “liars.”

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 neighborhood early on Jan. 29, 2019. He also testified that a $3,500 check he wrote for Abimbola 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 collected Osundairo in his car to go work out and that Osundairo’s brother, Olabingo, came along. Smollett denied the brothers’ testimony that they circled the area where the alleged attack occurred three times as a “dry run” for the fake assault. He said it wasn’t unusual for him to drive around in circles, and that he canceled the plan to work out because he didn’t want to work out with Olabingo Osundairo, whom he hadn’t invited along.

In this courtroom sketch, special prosecutor Dan Webb, left, cross-examines actor Jussie Smollett.
(AP Photo/Cheryl Cook)

Smollett was calm throughout hours of testimony with his defense attorney on Monday, but he seemed to grow irritated during his exchanges with Webb on Tuesday, at one point telling the veteran prosecutor that he doesn’t understand the social media app Instagram. At another point, he scolded the prosecutor for using the N-word while quoting messages sent between Smollett and Abimbola on the night of the attack.

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 on Instagram to Abimbola on the night of the alleged attack regarding the timing of the fake attack, Smollett responded, “there was no fake attack” and denied sending the messages. After Webb showed Smollett four messages that Smollett sent Osundairo that night, Smollett told Webb: “If you say so, sir.”

In the final message – sent at 12:41 a.m., about 90 minutes before the alleged attack – Smollett told Osundairo that he had finally made it home from the airport. Smollett testified he was sending the messages to arrange a workout session, not a fake attack.

On Monday, Smollett testified that he was returning home from buying 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 some hate mail – that included a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose – that Smollett had received at the “Empire” set, he testified.

In this courtroom sketch, actor Jussie Smollett takes the stand in his own defense Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on day five of his trial in Chicago.
(AP Photo/Cheryl Cook)

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 whether he meant that 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 that 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 said of the Osundairo brothers: “They are liars.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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