Empire actor Jussie Smollett takes the stand in last-ditch effort

Jussie Smollett takes stand in his own defense and testifies that he visited gay bathhouses where he took drugs and masturbated with one of the Nigerian brothers who ‘beat him up’

  • Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack 
  • The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation 
  • Some legal experts say the only chance Smollett has of beating charges that he lied to the police is by telling jurors his version of what happened 
  • Smollett testified that he and Abimbola Osundairo had been to gay bathhouses together where they had done drugs and ‘masturbated together’ in a private room  
  • Smollett’s attorneys have claimed that it was a ‘real’ attack and that Osundairo and his brother, Olabingo, made up the story about a hoax then asked Smollett for $1 million each to not testify against him at trial 
  • Osundairo admitted that he had gone to the bathhouse with Smollett when he was cross-examined last week on the stand by the defense lawyers – but testified that there was no relationship 
  • Smollett contradicted those claims, saying he and Abimbola got a private room and ‘there was some touching.’ The actor also said there was gay pornography on the bathhouse walls 

Jussie Smollett admitted to hooking up at a gay bathhouse with one of the two Nigerian brothers whom he allegedly hired to beat him up as the fired Empire actor took the stand Monday in a last-ditch effort to sway the Chicago jury in his trial for lying to police about being the victim of a hate crime.   

Smollett testified that he and Abimbola Osundairo had been to gay bathhouses together where they had done drugs and ‘masturbated together’ in a private room. 

Smollett’s attorneys have claimed that it was a ‘real’ attack and that Osundairo and his brother, Olabingo, made up the story about a hoax then asked Smollett for $1 million each to not testify against him at trial. 

Osundairo admitted that he had gone to the bathhouse with Smollett when he was cross-examined last week on the stand by the defense lawyers – but testified that there was no relationship between the two and was unaware if the bathhouses they’d gone to were frequented by gay people.

Smollett contradicted those claims, saying he and Abimbola got a private room and ‘there was some touching.’ The actor also said there was gay pornography on the bathhouse walls. 

He then said that he and Abimbola had been to the same bathhouse together a second time, after leaving a strip club with Abimbola’s brother, Olabinjio. 

The prosecution rested Thursday and the defense began calling witnesses, which included testimony from Smollett himself

Jussie Smollett took the stand in his criminal trial Monday in Chicago. Here, he’s seen entering Leighton Criminal Courthouse alongside family and attorney

Smollett contradicted the testimony of Abimbola Osundairo (pictured left), saying the two had made out and ‘masturbated together’ at a gay bathhouse in Chicago

Actor Jussie Smollett arrives Monday with his mother Janet at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for day five of his trial in Chicago

Smollett showed a photo of his family growing up and spoke about his family background earlier on direct examination

‘We went alone, we got a private room again,’ Smollett said. ‘We made out a little bit and this time we masturbated together.’  

He also said he felt he was under immense pressure when starring on Empire, claiming creator Lee Daniels told the actor that he was for gay black men what Phylicia Rashad was for black women on The Cosby Show. 

The pressure was part of what made him turn to drugs, which Abimbola Osundairo supplied him with, according to Smollett. 

Smollett testified to paying $200 to Abimbola for cocaine. 

The actor said that Abimbola would often sit and smoke weed with Jussie in his car as a regular ritual. 

Smollett said that he had a decidedly different relationship with Abimbola’s brother, Olabinjio Osundairo.

Smollett said he didn’t know Olabinjo very well and was ‘creeped out’ by him. He said that his friendship with Abimbola was not something to ‘shine a light on’ in Olabinjio’s presence.

Jussie then spoke about how he hired the two brothers for a nutrition program, as Empire creator Lee Daniels told him he was 30 pounds overweight.

Smollett says he ‘had put on a significant amount of weight’ and wanted to get in shape. ‘I had to be shirtless in the music video that we were prepping for.’ 

Experts thought the actor might decide to take a star turn in the witness box because of the damning testimony presented by the prosecution, which rested its case Thursday. 

Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack – one count for each time he gave a report – to three different officers. 

The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

Smollett initially gave background about his life as a child actor, saying that his family wasn’t rich as he grew up. 

‘The Olsen twins were child stars. I was not a star,’ Smollett said, referring to himself as a ‘working child actor’ growing up, appearing in films such as the Mighty Ducks franchise. 

Smollett began talking about his jobs as a young person, including a cashier, and a birthday clown.

He was asked to identify his family, including his late father, who is white and Jewish. He mentioned not always having gotten along with him but that they made peace before he died in 2015.

He added that his mother Janet was his ‘favorite human in the world.’

Smollett noted that he had begun his stint as Jamal Lyon on Empire making $27,000-$28,000 an episode, but had renegotiated that to over $100,000 per episode by the time of the attack. 

He claimed he was happy with his contract at the time of the attack, noting that the studio that produced the show gave Smollett 50 percent of publishing rights to his songs and complete control of the master recordings.   

‘They told me that had never been done in the history of the network,’ he said. 

As the trial resumed Monday after the judge gave the jury the day off on Friday, his defense lawyers called security guard Anthony Moore to the stand. 

 

Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported he was the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack in downtown Chicago nearly three years ago

Attorneys spent much of Monday debating whether or not to have Smollett take the stand in the case before he eventually answered questions

Attorney Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, center, walks with her clients Abimbola Osundairo, left, and Olabinjo Osundairo

Moore testified that he told police he shined a flashlight in the face of a person running with ski mask near where Smollett said he was attacked. He told cops the suspect was a white person, yet police kept asking if it could have been a black person. 

During the trial that started Nov. 29, what emerged was the story of a television star who cast two brothers as his attackers, gave them dialogue to recite, and paid for the rope he told them to fashion into a noose and loop around his neck. 

As strange as that sounds, it is the only narrative that has come to the jury from the siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo. 

And some legal experts say the only chance Smollett has of beating charges that he lied to the police is by telling jurors his version of what happened on Jan. 29, 2019.

‘The jurors might be thinking, `Who does this guy think he is, not getting up and telling his story?” said Terry Ekl, a prominent Chicago-area defense attorney not involved in the case.

Ekl and other legal experts said jurors are not supposed to read anything into a defendant’s decision not to testify but that when they return to the deliberation room they often do just that. 

As to the importance of a defendant testifying, legal experts said one need look no further than the recent trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after he testified that he fatally shot two men and wounded another because he feared for his own life.

Smollett raised his fist as he entered the courthouse

Special prosecutor Dan Webb, the man who has been leading the case against Smollett

‘They won the case by putting him on,’ said Kathleen Zellner, a Chicago area defense attorney. ‘The jury believed him.’

In Smollett’s case, it may be vital for him to testify because his lawyers ‘haven’t been able to impeach these brothers,’ said Chicago-based defense attorney, Joe Lopez.

Nor have they located a white person that a woman told police she saw carrying a rope in the area earlier that night, leaving the brothers and Smollett as the only three people that the jury can conclude know what happened.

‘I think they just want to hear his story and if they don’t, the only one they’ve got is the prosecutions’ story,’ said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law.

Another reason why Smollett might want to testify: He should be good at it.

‘He’s an actor. He should be testifying,’ Lopez said.

Smollett embraces with mother Janet outside the Leighton Criminal Court Building

Jussie and his team inside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse

Smollett and his mother walked arm and arm into court

‘He has the ability to communicate (and) he thinks he can take the witness stand and play a role,’ said Ekl.

Erickson said that when he teaches trial advocacy, he makes it clear from the outset that jurors vote for people they like. Right now, he said, he’s sure they like the special prosecutor, Dan Webb. ‘Dan Webb is Everyman, he seems like a nice guy, a good next-door neighbor. ‘

In contrast, they don’t know Smollett, and have not heard his voice since he introduced himself during jury selection.

But testifying could pose all sorts of problems for Smollett, starting with his need to explain how the brothers knew they would run into him in the dead of a brutally cold night in an unfamiliar neighborhood as he returned from a sandwich shop. Unless he told them he would be there.

Also, if he’s convicted, Smollett’s words could land him in yet more trouble.

‘You can’t be penalized (by a judge) for not testifying but if he takes the stand and the judge believes he perjured himself, he can add (jail or prison) time,’ said Erickson.

Both Erickson and Ekl think Smollett will end up testifying, even if his attorneys beg him not to.

‘I think you’ve got a guy who is so arrogant and self-centered, he really thinks he can make people believe what he says is true … (and) schmooze a jury to get them to like him,’ Ekl said. 

Defense attorney Shay Allen has suggested the brothers, who are Black, were motivated to accuse Smollett of staging the hoax because they disliked the performer – who is gay and Black – and then saw an opportunity to make money.

After a short recess, former Empire executive producer and showrunner Brett Mahoney was called to the stand. 

TIMELINE OF JUSSIE SMOLLETT HOAX ATTACK SCANDAL

Jan. 22, 2019

Smollett receives a racist and homophobic threatening letter at the studio in Chicago where ‘Empire’ is filmed. Police later say they believe Smollett sent the letter himself.

The brothers said Smollett also sent himself this letter to the Fox studio where Empire is filmed a week before the attack. If he did, he faces another 5-10 years in prison on a federal mail fraud charge 

Police say Smollett cut his own cheek to make it look like he had suffered injuries in the attack. He is shown in a hospital bed selfie FaceTiming Lee Daniels, the show’s creator, hours after the attack 

Jan. 29, 2019

Jussie Smollett tells police he was attacked by two men in downtown Chicago at 2 a.m. 

The actor says the men used racist and homophobic slurs, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an ‘unknown substance’ on him. 

Police say Smollett, who is Black and gay, told detectives the attackers also yelled he was in ‘MAGA country’

Jan. 30, 2019

Chicago police say they’ve reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage, including of Smollett walking downtown, but none shows the attack. 

Police obtain and release images of two people they want to question, calling them ‘persons of interest’

Feb. 1, 2019

Smollett issues a statement saying he’s OK, that he’s working with authorities and has been ‘100 percent factual and consistent on every level.’

Feb. 2, 2019

Smollett opens a concert in West Hollywood, California, with an emotional speech, saying he had to play the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win

Police released this image of ‘persons of interest’ taken near the reported attack

Feb. 13, 2019

Chicago police pick up two Nigerian brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after police learn at least one worked on Empire

Police question them and search their apartment 

Jussie Smollett on Good Morning America on February 14, 2019 

February 20, 2019

Smollett is charged 

Feb. 21, 2019

Chicago police say Smollett surrenders to face a felony charge of disorderly conduct, punishable by up to three years in prison.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity. Investigators say they have a $3,500 check that Smollett used to pay the two brothers to help him.

Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson tore through Smollett at a press conference on Thursday where he labeled him ‘shameful’ and ‘despicable’ 

Feb. 22, 2019

Jussie Smollett is shown in his mugshot in February 2019

Empire producers say Smollett’s character to be removed from the final two episodes of the season.

March 7, 2019

A Cook County grand jury returns a 16-count indictment charging Smollett with falsely reporting an offense

March 26, 2019

Smollett’s attorneys say charges alleging he lied to police have been dropped.

March 28, 2019

A city official says Chicago is seeking $130,000 from Smollett to cover the cost of the investigation into his reported beating, which police say was staged.

Smollett’s attorney Tina Glandian claims on TV that the attackers could have been wearing ‘white face’ and that’s what made him describe them as light-skinned  

April 11, 2019

The city of Chicago files a lawsuit seeking to recoup the investigation costs.


Jussie Smollett’s lawyer Tina Glandian suggested on Thursday that the reason he told police his Nigerian attackers were white was because they ‘might have been wearing white face’ and had disguised themselves. Her evidence of the theory is 2016 video of Abel Osundairo (right) dressed up as the Joker 

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx  recused herself from the Smollett case

April 23, 2019

The brothers who said they helped Smollett stage the attack file a defamation lawsuit against the actor’s attorneys.

Aug. 23, 2019

Judge names former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as special prosecutor to investigate why charges against Smollett were dropped.

Feb. 11, 2020

Webb says grand jury returns six-count indictment against Smollett, accusing him of lying to police.

Feb. 24, 2020

Smollett pleads not guilty to restored charges.

Oct. 15, 2021

Judge James Linn denies a last-ditch effort to dismiss the criminal case against Smollett and sets his trial for Nov. 29.  

November 29, 2021: Jury selection begins  

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