By DON BABWIN
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 “Empire” actor claims he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago on a frosty 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. .
A jury was sworn in on Monday in the Chicago courtroom, although an unknown number of deputy jurors are still being selected as of late afternoon. Judge James Linn, who said he expected the trial to last about a week, asked potential jurors if they had been victims of a hate crime, if they had watched “Empire” or TMZ, a show and website about celebrities, or if they belong to civil rights or pro-police organizations. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom and the proceedings are not broadcast live, unlike other recent high profile trials.
Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse with his mother and other family members, 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 prison sentence of up to three years, 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 see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police examined to trace the movements of the brothers before and after the reported attack, as well as video showing the brothers buying red hats, masks ski boots and gloves in 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 local who says he saw a white man with “red 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.
Given that there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements, that they participated in the attack, Smollett’s lawyers are unlikely to 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 from the brothers, perhaps with the help of other people, who now only involve the actor so that ‘they are not charged either.
The check for $ 3,500 could be the key, although Smollett says he wrote it to pay one of the brothers 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.
What they will almost certainly do is attack the brothers’ credibility, reminding jurors that they 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.
Finally, Smollett’s career could take center stage. 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 notoriety and a raise in salary.
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.
Check out the full PA coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.