Judge says Smollett case to focus on ‘what happened on the street’ night of alleged hate crime hoax

The former “Empire” actor’s defense team wants former CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson to testify. But the judge says it’s unlikely the former top cop will take the stand.

SHARE Judge says Smollett case to focus on ‘what happened on the street’ night of alleged hate crime hoax
Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for a hearing, Feb. 24, 2020.

Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for a hearing, Feb. 24, 2020 following a new indictment brought by Special Prosecutor Dan Webb that charged Smollett with falsely reporting he was the victim of a racist, homophobic attack near his Streeterville apartment in January 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A Cook County judge Wednesday said evidence presented at Jussie Smollett’s upcoming trial should narrowly focus on “what happened on the street” the night the former “Empire” actor was accused of staging a fake hate crime.

Smollett, 38, faces felony charges for allegedly lying to Chicago police in January 2019 when he said he was jumped by two masked white men who shouted homophobic and racist slurs while punching him and pulling a thin rope noose over his head while he was walking back to his Streeterville apartment after stopping at a nearby Subway.

Following an investigation, police said they learned Smollett paid Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundiaroto —two brothers who worked with him on a fitness regimen — to stage the attack.

Smollett’s defense team Wednesday said they were considering calling former Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson as a witness as well as other public officials who made statements to the media, including State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Judge James Linn said it was unlikely he would allow any of those officials to testify or have their statements presented at the trial.

“The facts of this case are really what happened on the street that day, whether Mr. Smollett was attacked and reported something accurately that happened, or whether he made something up,” the judge said.

No motions have yet been filed to include or exclude evidence, but Linn said he wanted the parties to begin working through any potential disagreements.

Smollett’s lawyers said they believe the Osundiaro brothers possibly committed the attack for their own professional and financial gain, and said they may want to include as evidence various lawsuits the brothers have filed since the attack and possible attempts to get paid to tell their story.

Smollett’s lawyers also said they were interested in calling Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, the brothers’ attorney, to the stand. Linn told the defense team he would flatly deny that request.

The judge also indicated he would limit discussion of Judge Michael Toomin’s appointment of a special prosecutor after the initial charges against Smollett were tossed in a controversial decision by the state’s attorney’s office.

Smollett is expected back in court March 5.

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