When Jussie Smollett’s trial begins this week, two brothers will be at the core of the evidence that prosecutors will present to jurors.
On a chilly night in January 2019, the former “Empire” star claims he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago. He paid his brothers $3,500 to appear as his assailants, according to his siblings, who cooperated with him on the TV show.
Smollett has been charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about the claimed incident. The offense, which is classified as a class 4 felony, has a maximum term of three years in jail, but experts believe that if Smollett is convicted, he will most likely be sentenced to probation and maybe community service.
It’s unclear whether Smollett, who is black and openly homosexual, will testify. However, the Osundairo siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo, will testify, repeating what they have told police officers and prosecutors – that they carried out the attack at Smollett’s request.
Jurors may also see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras used by police to track the brothers’ movements before and after the alleged attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks, and gloves from a beauty supply store hours before the alleged attack.
Smollett’s lawyers haven’t said how they’ll deal with the evidence, and the primary lawyer, Nenye Uche, has declined to comment. However, there are hints as to how they could act during the trial, which begins Monday in a Chicago courthouse with jury selection. It’ll probably last a week.
A testimony from a lady who resided in the vicinity claims she observed a Caucasian male with “reddish brown hair” who looked to be waiting for someone that night, buried among over 500 pages of Chicago Police Department data.
She informed a detective that as the man turned away from her, she “could see what seemed to be a rope sticking out from underneath his jacket.”
Her words might bolster Smollett’s claim that his assailants hung a makeshift rope around his neck. Furthermore, if she testified that the man was white, it would back up Smollett’s claims that he spotted light or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked assailants, which have been widely mocked because the brothers, who are Nigerian, are Black.
Tina Glandian, one of the defense attorneys, said on NBC’s “Today” show in March 2019 that one of the brothers might have worn white makeup around his eyes to make Smollett believe he was white. To allay juror suspicion, Glandian might ask the brothers about a video she mentioned on the show, in which one of them is dressed in whiteface and performing a speech by the Joker character from a movie.
Given the overwhelming evidence, including the brothers’ own claims, suggesting they were involved in the assault, Smollett’s attorneys are unlikely to try to disprove their involvement. That might lead the defense to argue that Smollett was the victim of a true attack by the brothers, possibly with the aid of others, who are now only blaming the actor so that prosecutors won’t prosecute them as well.
The $3,500 check can be crucial. While the brothers claim that was their remuneration for staging the incident, Smollett claims that he wrote the cash to pay one of them to act as his personal trainer.
“I’m sure the defense will focus on it,” said Joe Lopez, a well-known defense attorney who isn’t engaged in the case. “The defense would use all of that if they texted texts about training sessions, checks he (Smollett) wrote them for training, and images.”
They will very probably assault the brothers’ credibility, which will almost certainly include a reminder to the jury that, although confessing to taking part in the manufactured attack, the brothers are not facing the same criminal charges as Smollett.
“They’re liable for everything Smollett is responsible for,” said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who now teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law and is not engaged in the case. “They took part and then walked away?” “What the heck is that?” says the narrator.
Erickson believes prosecutors will address the problem before Smollett’s lawyers, as they will not want to look as if they are attempting to hide something.
Finally, Smollett’s career may be thrust into the spotlight. On one hand, prosecutors might make the same argument that then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson did when announcing Smollett’s arrest in 2019: that Smollett believed the attack would increase his reputation and earn him a promotion on a popular TV program.
However, Lopez stated that the defense counsel may ask the jury the same question he has.
He wondered aloud, “How would it assist him with anything?” “He’s already a star,” says the narrator.