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Jussie Smollett case set to go to jury Wednesday

During a tense two hours on the stand, the actor said his alleged accomplices, brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, offered to clear Smollett for $2 million payoff.

Flanked by family members, supporters, attorneys and bodyguards, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Tuesday morning, Dec. 7, 2021.
Flanked by family members, supporters, attorneys and bodyguards, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Tuesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A Cook County jury will likely begin deliberating Wednesday in actor Jussie Smollett’s trial on charges he lied to police about being the victim of an alleged racist and homophobic attack nearly three years ago.

The defense rested its case Tuesday afternoon after the actor spent a tense two hours on the stand, at times getting testy under questioning from Special Prosecutor Dan Webb.

Judge James Linn released the jury around noon, telling them they would return Wednesday to hear closing arguments and then to weigh a verdict on the six counts of disorderly conduct the actor faces.

During testimony that spanned two days of trial, Smollett forcefully and repeatedly denied that he was involved in planning an alleged hoax attack in January 2019 on himself with brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo. The pair testified last week that Smollett masterminded the attack as a publicity stunt.

The 39-year-old actor said Tuesday a representative for the Osundairo brothers had sought a payoff to change their testimony.

Defense attorney Nenye Uche asked if Smollett was aware the brothers had offered to say the actor was not involved in return for $2 million.

“Yes,” Smollett said.

Webb seized on that accusation on cross-examination, asking if the brothers had texted or called Smollett about their alleged demand.

“Their lawyer or whoever communicated [the payout] to my people … my lawyers,” Smollett said.

“Did you have any direct communication with [Abimbola] Osundairo for money not to testify?” Webb demanded.

“No,” Smollett replied.

“With [Olabinjo] Osundairo?” Webb asked.

“No,” Smollett said.

Jurors will soon have to weigh the five days of testimony they heard in the trial.

Both brothers have claimed Smollett gave Abimbola $3,500 and asked for them to help stage the alleged attack. The brothers each testified that Smollett directed them to yell racist and anti-gay taunts at him during the incident and wear red hats.

Smollett’s defense team has painted the brothers as opportunists who befriended and then turned on the actor to further their own careers.

Olabinjo Osundairo was cast as a homophobe and convicted felon who couldn’t be trusted. Abimbola Osundairo, whom Smollett said was his friend, personal trainer, drug purveyor and occasional makeout partner, was accused of exploiting the actor’s “crush” as a way to climb the ladder on Smollett’s hit television drama “Empire,” where Abimbola Osundairo worked as an extra.

Smollett’s lawyers also attempted to cast doubt on several other theories put out by special prosecutors: Smollett’s publicist told jurors her client was charitable and shy of the attention the show brought, while “Empire” showrunner Brett Mahoney rebutted special prosecutors’ suggestion that Smollett staged the attack because he was angry with how the studio handled a threatening letter the actor received.

Special prosecutors supported their case with the testimony of multiple members of the Chicago Police Department who worked the case. Detective Michael Theis told jurors how police painstakingly collected more than 1,500 hours of security camera footage that allowed them to track and later identify the Osundairos.

Smollett became a suspect after the Osundairos were arrested at O’Hare Airport two weeks later and told investigators that Smollett had recruited them to generate publicity for the actor.

Theis said the brothers’ account was confirmed through surveillance footage, GPS data and cell phone records and showed Smollett asked Abimbola Osundairo for help with something “on the low” days before the allegedly staged crime took place.

GPS data also showed Smollett picking up the brothers from their family home in Lake View on Jan. 27 and driving to the Streeterville neighborhood. Cameras recorded Smollett’s Mercedes-Benz SUV repeatedly passing the stairwell where Smollett claimed he was attacked in what Theis called a “dry run” to finalize details of how the interaction between Smollett and the Osundairos would occur.