CHICAGO (AP) – Two brothers are at the center of the case that prosecutors will bring before jurors in Jussie Smollett’s trial this week.
The former actor of “Empire” claims to have been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago on a frigid night in January 2019. The siblings, who worked with him on the TV show, say he paid them $ 3,500 to pose as his attackers.
Jury selection began Monday in a Chicago courtroom. Judge James Linn has said he expects the trial to take about a week.
Smollett is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been charged with the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct. A Class 4 felony, the felony carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, but experts said it was more likely that if Smollett was found guilty he would be placed on probation and possibly be sentenced to perform community service.
Whether Smollett, who is black and gay, testifies remains an open question. But the siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will take the witness stand where they should repeat what they told police and prosecutors – that they carried out the attack at Smollett’s request.
Jurors can also view surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras who police examined to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers shopping for a red hat, ski masks and gloves at a cosmetics store hours earlier .
Smollett’s lawyers have not explained how they will confront this evidence and lead lawyer Nenye Uche declined to comment ahead of this week’s proceedings. But there are clues as to how they might do it during the trial.
Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from a woman who lived in the area who said she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be expecting someone that night. .
She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see what appeared to be a rope hanging under her jacket.”
His comments could support Smollett’s claim that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Moreover, if she testified that the man was white, it would corroborate Smollett’s statements – widely ridiculed because the brothers, who are from Nigeria, are black – that he saw the pale or white skin around the eyes of the man. one of his masked attackers.
One of the defense attorneys, Tina Glandian, suggested during a March 2019 appearance on NBC’s “Today” show that one of the brothers could have used white makeup around his eyes to make it appear. to Smollett that he was white. To answer the jury’s skepticism, Glandian could ask the brothers about a video she talked about on the show that she says shows one of them in white reciting a monologue of the Joker character from a movie.
Given that there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements, that they participated in the attack, it is unlikely that Smollett’s lawyers will try to prove that they were not involved. . Perhaps this could lead the defense to argue that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack by the brothers, perhaps with the help of other people, who now only involve the actor so that prosecutors do not charge them as well.
The check for $ 3,500 could be the key. While the brothers say it was their fees to carry out the fake attack, Smollett offered a different and much more innocent explanation: that he wrote the check to pay one of them to work. as a personal trainer.
“I guess the defense will focus on this,” said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense lawyer not involved in the case. “If they texted about training sessions, checks that he (Smollett) wrote to them for training, photographs, the defense would use it all. “
What they will almost certainly do is attack the credibility of the brothers – an effort that will certainly include a reminder to the jury that the brothers do not face the same criminal charges as Smollett, although they do admit to having participated in the staged attack.
“Whatever Smollett is responsible for they are responsible,” said David Erickson, a former state appeals judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law and is not involved in the case. “Have they participated and are they leaving?” What is that? “
Erickson said he expects prosecutors to tackle this issue before Smollett’s lawyers, because they won’t want to appear like they’re trying to hide something.
Finally, Smollett’s career could take center stage. On the one hand, prosecutors could make the same point as then-police commissioner Eddie Johnson when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: that Smollett believed the attack would earn him more fame and earn him a raise on a hit TV show.
But Lopez said defense attorneys could ask the jury the same question he asked himself.
“How would that help him with anything?” ” He asked. “He’s already a star.
Discover the full coverage of the AP of the Jussie Smollett case.