Court proceedings are underway in the trial of Jussie Smollett, the “Empire” star accused of paying two brothers to stage what he claimed was a homophobic and racist attack.
CBS Chicago reports that jury selection begins Moday in the high-profile trial. Smollett, now 39, is facing multiple charges in connection to the incident, in which Smollett told Chicago police he was the victim of a racially-motivated attack in the early hours of January 29, 2019. Smollett told police he had gone out to a Subway sandwich store after midnight, and as he was returning to his apartment building two masked men attacked him. As previously reported, Smollett said the men hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him, and tied a noose around his neck.
The case against Smollett has gone through several phases in the nearly three years since in the incident. Smollett was initially charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct, after brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo came forward with evidence that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage that attack. The brothers had both worked as extras on “Empire,” and Smollett had reportedly worked with one of the brothers for a personal training session. Smollett’s defense is likely to argue that the $3,500 check was for a personal training and nutrition program in preparation for a music video shoot. As previously reported, the memo on the check reads: “5 week Nutrition/Workout program Don’t Go.” “Don’t Go” is reportedly a reference to the music video Smollett was planning to shoot.
In March 2019, prosecutors dropped all charges against Smollet, a decision that angered top Chicago police officials. Later, a special prosecutor took on the case and Smollett is now charged with felony disorderly conduct on suspicion that he lied to police. If convicted, Smollett could face three years in jail.
Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo are expected to take the witness stand when trial proceedings are underway, the Associated Press reports. As CrimeOnline previously reported, investigators have obtained incriminating material evidence that would appear to support the brothers’ claims. But according to the Associated Press, police documents show that a witness saw a white man with “reddish-brown hair” lingering in the area of the attack in the dark and frigid early hours of January 29, 2019. At one point, the woman saw what “appeared to be a rope.”
Smollett told police that his attackers, though masked, appeared to be white. Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo are Black. As the Associated Press notes, the evidence that the brothers are connected to the incident appears to be substantial enough that the defense is unlikely to argue Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo were not involved at all. One defense attorney says he expects the defense focus on the $3,500 check.
“I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that,” said well-known attorney Joe Lopez, who has no involvement with the Smollett case. “If they texted messages regarding training sessions, checks he (Smollett) wrote them for training, photographs, the defense would use all of that.”
As Fox News reports, Judge James Linn ruled the reporters and cameras can not be in the courtroom during jury selection. It is not yet known if cameras will be permitted once jury selection is complete.
CrimeOnline will provide further updates as the court proceedings continue.
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[Feature image:Jussie Smollet, stands before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Watkins where he pled not guilty at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Thursday, March 14, 2019 in Chicago.]