Jussie Smollett case in jurors' hands at Chicago trial
Published Wednesday, December 8, 2021 2:49AM EST Last Updated Wednesday, December 8, 2021 6:19PM EST
CHICAGO -- A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday there is "overwhelming evidence" that Jussie Smollett lied to Chicago police about being the victim of an anti-gay, racist hate crime, while a defence attorney called the case a "house of cards" built on testimony from two liars.
The lawyers' closing arguments capped just over one week of testimony in the case against the former "Empire" actor. The jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday but broke for the day without reaching a verdict. They are expected to resume deliberations Thursday.
In his closing, special prosecutor Dan Webb said Smollett caused Chicago police to spend enormous resources investigating an alleged crime that they now believe is fake. Smollett, who is Black and gay, told police someone put a noose around his neck and yelled racist and homophobic slurs during the January 2019 attack near his downtown Chicago home.
"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, saying surveillance video from before the alleged attack and that night contradicts key moments of Smollett's testimony.
"At the end of the day, he lacks any credibility whatsoever," Webb said.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche said in his closing argument that two brothers who testified that Smollett orchestrated the attack and paid them to carry it out are "sophisticated liars" out for money.
"The entire prosecution's case, including the foundation of the case, is built like a house of cards," Uche said.
The brothers testified last week that Smollett recruited and paid them for the hoax, telling them to put a noose around his neck, yell racist and homophobic slurs and rough him up in view of a surveillance camera, and that he said he wanted video of the hoax made public via social media.
Smollett testified that he was the victim of a real hate crime, telling jurors "there was no hoax. " He called the brothers "liars" and said the $3,500 check he wrote them was for meal and workout plans. His attorneys argued that the brothers attacked the actor because they are homophobic and that they made up the story about the attack being staged but said they wouldn't testify against Smollett if he paid them each $1 million.
Smollett said he was returning home around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019, 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, featuring a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose, that Smollett testified he had received at the "Empire" set.
Smollett said a man hit him in the head and he fell to the ground and 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.
Uche told the jury that one of the brothers, Olabingo Osundairo, posted homophobic slurs on social media. He also recalled that Abimbola Osundairo testified he went to a bathhouse with Smollett but denied any sexual relationship. Smollett later testified that the men performed sex acts together at the bathhouse. Uche suggested Olabingo's homophobia and Abimbola's "self-hatred" were motives for their attack.
Another possible motive, Uche said, was that Abimbola Osundairo wanted to be hired as Smollett's security.
Webb said Smollett lied when he testified that he picked up the Osundairo brothers a few days before the alleged attack so they could work out, rather than to do a "dry run" of the fake attack, as the brothers told jurors last week. In surveillance video, the men are seen driving around Smollett's apartment building three times, but Smollett never parked his car to go to the gym.
The brothers testified that Smollett pointed out a surveillance camera near the intersection that would record the fake attack, so it could be publicized on social media. But Smollett testified Tuesday that 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.
Uche told jurors that Smollett often drove around smoking marijuana and making music, and he questioned why prosecutors didn't obtain surveillance video of him doing so.
"They don't want to do it because it would show you it wasn't a dry run," Uche said.
Webb also referenced surveillance video that shows the Osundairo brothers walking around the area the night of the alleged attack. Webb questioned how the brothers -- who didn't live nearby -- would know to be in the area around 2 a.m. during freezing cold weather for the fake attack.
"They knew where he was going to be because Smollett told them where he was going to be," Webb said.
But Uche said the brothers testified they arrived 40 minutes early, adding "they were casing him."
Webb also questioned why Smollett didn't turn over his cellphone to police or give them a DNA sample or access to his medical records to help with the investigation. Smollett testified he doesn't trust Chicago police, and that he was concerned about his privacy.
Uche called it "nonsense" for Chicago police to ask Smollett for his DNA when he was still considered a victim of a crime. He noted Smollett later provided DNA to the FBI for a separate investigation into hate mail he had received at the "Empire" studio shortly before the alleged attack.
"He wasn't hiding anything," Uche said.
The disorderly conduct charge is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted, he would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
Before leaving for the day Wednesday, the jury asked Judge James Linn for a copy of a calendar that prosecutors displayed at trial that indicates relevant days, including the day of the attack and the day they say Smollett and the brothers conducted the "dry run."