Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett took the stand in his own defense on Monday and told the Chicago jury that he never participated in a race hoax. But his story has now moved from the ridiculous to the outrageous.
Police say Smollett planned and paid for his own “hate crime” by hiring two men, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, to dress as Donald Trump supporters and attack him in the frigid early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019. One of the hired men, a friend of Smollett’s, testified that the actor conducted a dry run with them and fronted the money for the supplies used in the attack, including ski masks, a noose, and bleach. He even wrote their lines for them, urging them to scream, “This is MAGA country!” and hurl racist and anti-gay slurs as they beat him.
Smollett faces six felony disorderly conduct charges for perpetrating the hate crime hoax, lying to police, and touching off an expensive and intensive investigation in which police concluded that he lied about the whole thing.
Prosecutors claim Smollett staged the fake hate crime to draw attention to another fake hate crime the actor claimed happened a week before. Smollett claimed someone sent him a letter containing white powder, racist and anti-gay epithets, a stick figure drawing of a man hanging from a noose, and, of course, a “MAGA” reference. The U.S. Postal Service concluded there was no white powder and that Smollett sent himself the letter. The FBI wrapped up its investigation and never issued any charges.
The motive was to draw attention to himself to convince Empire producers that he was worth more than $65,000 per episode. Eventually, he began making $100,000 per episode. Until he was dumped for staging fake race hoaxes.
Ironically, the actor’s trial is not being televised.
Jurors were shown CCTV video of Smollett and the two brothers allegedly doing a dry run the day before the attack.
On Monday, Smollett testified that the attack wasn’t a hoax and that he’d been hurt, even though a physician testifying for the defense told jurors the actor’s wounds were not consequential.
Smollett has blamed white men, MAGA backers, and anti-gay people for the attack. When it was discovered that the “white men” were, in fact, black, Smollett blamed the black men. Then the anti-gay libel had to be ditched when Smollett admitted he “made out” at a bathhouse with one of the brothers before starting a sexual relationship with him.
Defense attorneys floated alternative explanations for why the two men, who received a $3,500 check from Smollett, attacked him. The attorneys claimed the two brothers were:
- Trying to convince Smollett he needed a security detail
- Demanding a $2.9 million payoff not to testify in a trial that was never expected
- Were anti-gay, though one was admittedly Smollett’s lover.
On the stand Monday Smollett played the victim again by blaming the police for his misfortune, perhaps hoping to convince the jury that he is innocent of staging the hate crime hoax and that the cops are the real bad actors.
Smollett said he picked up his phone and told the person he had been talking to that he “got jumped.” He testified that he noticed he had a noose around his neck as he returned to his apartment. Smollett said he removed the noose but a friend who was at his apartment called police and told him to put the noose back on so officers could see it. Smollett said he was upset police had been called because he would never have done so.
“I am a Black man in America. I do not trust the police,” Smollett said. “I am also a well-known figure at that time and I am an openly gay man.”
So there it is. When nothing else works, blame the cops.
He could spend three years in prison if he’s found guilty. He won’t. Fame has its privileges.