By DON BABWIN and SARA BURNETT
CHICAGO (AP) — A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that there is “overwhelming evidence” that former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett staged a racist, anti-gay attack against himself in downtown Chicago for publicity, then lied to police about it.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb said during his closing argument that what Smollett did in January 2019 caused Chicago police to spend enormous amounts of time and resources investigating an alleged crime that turned out to be fake. Smollett, who is Black and gay, told police someone put a noose around his neck and yelled racist and homophobic slurs.
“Besides being against the law it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” Webb said. He also accused Smollett of lying to jurors.
“At the end of the day he lacks any credibility whatsoever,” Webb said.
An attorney for Smollett, 39, is expected to give a closing argument later Wednesday before the jury begins deliberating whether Smollett is guilty on six counts of a low-level felony for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack. He faces one count of felony disorderly conduct for each time he gave a report to three different officers.
Taking the witness stand this week, Smollett repeatedly denied the attack was a fake, telling a prosecutor “there was no hoax on my part” and that two brothers who testified against him are “liars.”
Smollett called the Osundairo brothers’ testimony that he paid them $3,500 to carry out the fake attack “100% false,” and described how he was the victim of a hate crime while walking in his neighborhood early on Jan. 29, 2019. He also testified that a $3,500 check he wrote for Abimbola Osundairo was for meal and workout plans because he was trying to get toned for an upcoming music video.
Under cross-examination by Webb on Tuesday, Smollett said that a few days before the alleged attack he collected Osundairo in his car to go work out and that Osundairo’s brother, Olabingo, came along. Smollett denied the brothers’ testimony that they circled the area where the alleged attack occurred three times as a “dry run” for the fake assault. He said it wasn’t unusual for him to drive around in circles, and that he canceled the plan to work out because he didn’t want to work out with Olabingo Osundairo, whom he hadn’t invited along.
Smollett was calm throughout hours of testimony with his defense attorney on Monday, but he seemed to grow irritated during his exchanges with Webb on Tuesday, at one point telling the veteran prosecutor that Webb doesn’t understand the social media app Instagram.
Webb’s cross-examination also revealed some inconsistencies in Smollett’s testimony, including about whether he sent private messages to confirm the timing of the alleged attack and whether his attackers were white, as police say Smollett told them.
When Webb asked Smollett if he sent private messages on Instagram to Abimbola Osundairo on the night of the alleged attack regarding the timing of the fake attack, Smollett responded, “There was no fake attack,” and denied sending the messages. After Webb showed Smollett four messages that Smollett sent Osundairo that night, Smollett told Webb: “If you say so, sir.”
In the final message — sent at 12:41 a.m., about 90 minutes before the alleged attack — Smollett told Osundairo that he had finally made it home from the airport. Smollett testified he was sending the messages to arrange a workout session, not a fake attack.
On Monday, Smollett testified that he was returning home from buying a sandwich around 2 a.m. when someone yelled a racist, homophobic remark that referenced the TV show “Empire.” The person also shouted something about “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” The slogan also had been scrawled on some hate mail – that included a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose — that Smollett had received at the “Empire” set, he testified.
Smollett said when he turned to confront the person, a man hit him in the head and he fell to the ground, where he said another man kicked him before the attackers ran away. Smollett said he noticed a rope, like a noose, around his neck after the attack. When he returned home, a friend called Chicago police, something Smollett said he wouldn’t have done because as a Black man he doesn’t trust police.
Asked by Webb whether he meant that the brothers were his attackers, Smollett replied: “No, I don’t know. There’s no way for me to know that.” Webb then asked if Smollett recognized the voice of Abimbola Osundairo – who goes by Bola.
“In that moment, I’m not going to stop and say, ‘Hey Bola is that you?’” Smollett testified.
The brothers testified last week that the fake attack was Smollett’s idea, and that he gave them $100 to buy supplies including a rope to tie a noose around his neck, and directed them to yell racial and gay slurs and “MAGA.”
Smollett said of the Osundairo brothers: “They are liars.”
Smollett faces a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if he is convicted, he would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.
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