clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

4 things to know from first week of Jussie Smollett trial

Prosecution witnesses said Smollett was the mastermind of a hoax attack in 2019. But the defense has lobbed a few bombshell accusations as they’ve tried to tear down testimony by Smollett’s alleged accomplices.

Flanked by family members, supporters, attorneys and bodyguards, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, Dec. 2, 2021. The 39-year-old actor and singer is charged with lying to Chicago police in 2019 when he claimed he was the victim of a racist and anti-gay attack near his Streeterville apartment.
Flanked by family members, supporters, attorneys and bodyguards, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Thursday morning.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

There has been little courtroom drama for former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who has yet to take the stand himself as his trial wrapped its first week.

Prosecution witnesses pointed the finger — literally — at Smollett as the mastermind of a hoax attack in 2019. But the defense has lobbed a few bombshell accusations as they’ve tried to tear down testimony by Smollett’s alleged accomplices, brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo.

Here’s a look at what’s unfolded over the first week of the trial.

1. Brothers testify Smollett orchestrated attack for publicity

Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, the bodybuilding, aspiring actors Smollett allegedly recruited to help him stage the attack, have testified at length about everything from a nutrition and fitness plan they crafted to get the “Empire” star in shape for an upcoming music video, to visiting a bathhouse together in Boystown.

But both said they were taken aback when Smollett allegedly suggested a “crazy idea” to make it look like two supporters of President Donald Trump had attacked the actor so he could post surveillance footage of it on social media.

Abimbola Osundairo said he agreed to help stage the attack because he felt “indebted” to the actor he considered his friend. He also said he thought Smollett could help further his acting career.

Both brothers testified Smollett drove them around their Lake View neighborhood on Jan. 25 to broach the plan and took them on a “dry run” two days later in Streeterville to choreograph how the attack would unfold.

After they were arrested at O’Hare Airport two weeks after the attack, when they returned from visiting family and friends in Nigeria, the brothers flipped on Smollett, telling detectives he’d planned the whole thing, including the racist and anti-gay slurs they were told to yell at him.

Olabinjo Osundairo (center left, in blue), Abimbola Osundairo (center right, in black) pray with their attorney and a supporter before walking into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. The brothers are key prosecution witnesses in the trial of Jussie Smollett.
Olabinjo Osundairo (center left, in blue), Abimbola Osundairo (center right, in black) pray with their attorney and a supporter before walking into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Thursday. The brothers are key prosecution witnesses in the trial of Jussie Smollett.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

2. Detectives detail exhaustive investigation that led to Smollett becoming suspect

Chicago Police Detective Robert Graves detailed the massive investigation — involving as many as two dozen officers — that began early on Jan. 29, 2019, when Smollett’s agent called police. Smollett told arriving officers he’d been attacked by two white men, saying they had hurled racist, homophobic slurs and a Donald Trump slogan as they fled.

But Graves said Smollett was cagey with investigators, refusing to turn over his cellphone or medical records. Graves was then asked if any crime victim he’d encountered in his decades with CPD had ever been so unhelpful. “One,” he said, standing up and pointing across the courtroom at Smollett.

3. Defense accuses brothers of seeking payout

Smollett’s lawyers have sought to portray the brothers as false friends and opportunists who lied to police when they were caught to get out of being charged.

During their cross-examinations, defense attorney Shay Allen accused Abimbola Osundairo of asking for a $2 million payout from the actor to not testify against him at trial, which he denied. Allen also suggested that Abimbola Osundairo and Smollett were more than friends.

“When did you and Jussie start dating?” Allen asked and suggested Abimbola had used knowledge that Smollett had a “crush” on him — including going to a gay bathhouse together — to manipulate the actor.

In contrast, Smollett’s defense accused Olabinjo Osundairo of being homophobic and questioned him about a prior felony conviction and several weapons that were found at the family’s home.

Lead defense attorney Nenye Uche has also questioned whether investigators ignored leads that would point away from Smollett’s involvement after hearing the brothers’ allegations.

“The evidence is going to show there was a tremendous rush to judgment, and this rush to judgment has destroyed Jussie Smollett’s life, it has destroyed his career, it has made him a pariah,” Uche told the jury in his opening statement.

Former federal prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed special prosecutor in the Jussie Smollett case, walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Tuesday morning.
Former federal prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed special prosecutor in the Jussie Smollett case, walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Tuesday morning.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

4. Observer says Smollett must testify next week

During cross-examination, Smollett’s lawyers’ questions have made some bombshell accusations. That Abimbola Osundario and Smollett went to gay bathhouses together, and that the star had a crush that the bodybuilding, would-be actor exploited Smollett.

The brothers’ accounts of the planning and execution of the plan, according to their testimony, were witnessed by only one other person: Jussie Smollett. Only the actor can describe his reaction and explain things, such as what he meant when he texted Abimbola Osundairo that he “might need your help on the low” before the attack, and why he and the brothers were cruising around his neighborhood near the crime scene

Smollett is almost certain to take the stand, said veteran Chicago defense lawyer April Preyar, who has watched most of the trial from the extremely limited public seating in the courtroom.

“In the end, he’s the only one who can tell the story (the defense) is trying to tell,” Preyar said. “It will come down to, who do they believe? Do they believe Jussie, or do they believe the brothers?”