CHICAGO — 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, 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.
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.
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, which featured 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.
Webb said during Wednesday’s closing arguments that 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.
“He never went into the building to work out,” Webb said.
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.
Webb also referenced surveillance video that shows the Osundairo brothers — who are Black — walking around the area the night of the alleged attack. Webb said there is no doubt the Osundairo brothers were the attackers, but he noted that Smollett told police his attackers were white. And he 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.
During his cross-examination of Smollett on Tuesday, Webb presented private messages Smollett sent to Abimbola Osundairo earlier in the evening of the alleged assault via the social media app Instagram, when Smollett’s flight home to Chicago was delayed. They included a message about 90 minutes before the alleged assault that indicated he had arrived in Chicago. Smollett first denied he sent the messages, but acknowledged them after Webb showed that he had. Smollett said he was arranging a workout.
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.
“If he was a true victim of a crime he would not be withholding evidence,” Webb said. “Mr. Smollett didn’t want the crime solved. … He didn’t want the brothers apprehended.”
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.