CHICAGO (WLS) — Special Prosecutor Dan Webb has rested his case against Jussie Smollett in the trial over whether the “Empire” actor employed the help of two brothers to stage a racist, homophobic attack on himself.
Smollett’s defense began their case Thursday night, calling witnesses including the actor’s music manager and a Northwestern Hospital doctor.
Brandon Moore testified he was on the phone with Smollett when the attack happened.
“I heard a person mention something, something ‘MAGA country,'” the music manager testified. “Something wasn’t right, I could hear scuffling in the background. Jussie got on the phone and said ‘I just got jumped.'”
Emergency Room doctor Robert Turelli said Smollett’s injuries were serious enough for him to order an X-ray and a CT scan, both revealing no major injury.
At issue is not whether the attack happened, but whether Smollett staged it with the help of two brothers he knew.
The state’s two star witnesses in the Jussie Smollett trial both took the stand Thursday. Brothers Bola and Ola Osundairo faced tough questioning from both sides, but especially from defense council trying to discredit their assertion Smollett enlisted them to stage a hate crime attack on him.
Smollett’s legal team suggested Thursday Ambibola Osundairo, who often goes by Bola, isn’t credible and that he was trying to further his career and make money off his relationship with the actor.
Defense attorney Shay Allen asked Osundairo if he sold Smollett drugs and about guns found in Osundairo’s home when police searched it. Osundairo said he got drugs for Smollett when the actor asked him to but added, “I’m not a drug dealer, I don’t sell.”
Allen also questioned the motivation behind Osundairo’s interactions with Smollett, suggesting they were dating, that Smollett wanted Osundairo to get him supplements that are illegal in the U.S., and that the aspiring actor – who worked as a stand-in on “Empire” – wanted a high-paid job as Smollett’s security.
Allen also suggested Smollett wasn’t involved in plotting the alleged attack, and that the brothers acted on their own.
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’s legal team needed to cast doubt on Osundairo’s damaging testimony from Wednesday, but it wasn’t an easy task.
Osundaior denied defense attorneys’ accusations he tried to get a $5,000 a week job as Smollett’s security guard, and that he sought a $1 million payout and another $1 million for his brother not to testify against the actor. They also lobbed a bombshell allegation, asking Bola Osundairo when he started dating Somllett.
“What?” he answered. “We were never dating.”
The defense contended the siblings had a history of making anti-gay remarks on social media and on the “Empire” set, and targeted Smollett, who’s openly gay.
Osundairo stuck with his story Thursday, while denying a sexual relationship with Smollett and that he asked the actor to hire him. And much of what Osundairo told jurors about the Jan. 29, 2019, event appears to be corroborated by video and other evidence.
Osundairo testified that Smollett instructed him and his brother on how to carry out the staged attack. Smollett also planned a “dry run” and gave him a $100 bill to buy supplies, Osundairo said.
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Osundairo said Smollett instructed him to punch the actor but “not too hard.” Once he was on the ground, Osundairo said Smollett said he should give him “a bruise” and “give him a noogie” – or rub his knuckles hard on Smollett’s head.
Under redirect questioning, Osundairo said he and his brother agreed because he felt indebted to Smollett for helping him with his acting career.
Ola Osundairo took the stand next, testifying he agreed to Smollett’s plan because he was an aspiring actor who wanted to curry favor with the popular “Empire” star and because he didn’t think Smollett was going to involve police.
When special prosecutor Dan Webb asked if Smollett ever indicated he would call police or ever indicated he would make a police report, Ola Osundairo said he did not.
“If he had told you that, would you have participated?” Webb asked.
“Absolutely not,” he answered.
Ola Osundairo told jurors he had previously been convicted of a felony, and would not have wanted to do anything illegal.
Ola also pushed back against the defense’s allegations he and his brother are homophobic, saying they appeared on a Pride Parade float shirtless in 2015, and that he worked for years as a bouncer in Boystown.
“I have no hate for anybody,” Ola said. “I believe in God, and God is love.”
But on cross examination the 30-year-old, who has a master’s degree in finance, was pressed on text messages, including gone in which he referred to someone who might be gay as a “sicko.” When Judge James Linn told the defense to move along, calling the material “collateral,” defense attorney Tamara Walker became emotional in a sidebar and threatened to file a motion for mistrial.
“There will be no mistrial,” Judge Linn said.
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Bola Osundairo testified that he and his brother had difficulty identifying a good spot for the staged attack, walking around in the early morning of that Jan. 29 in weather that Osundairo described as “colder than penguin feet.”
According to Bola Osundario, when the brothers spotted Smollett at around 2 a.m., Osundairo – as instructed earlier by Smollett – shouted a homophobic slur and his brother yelled, “this is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
After punching Smollett in the face and throwing the actor to the ground, they put a noose around his neck and threw bleach on him, then ran away, Bola Osundairo told jurors.
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The next morning, as news broke of a hate crime against Smollett, Bola Osundairo said he texted a note of condolence to Smollett, also as instructed. It read: “Bruh, say it ain’t true. I’m praying for speedy recovery.”
Bola Osundairo testified that Smollett gave him a check for $3,500 and wrote on it that it was for a nutrition and workout program. But he said the money was actually both for the program and for helping to stage the attack.
A defense attorney told jurors during openings that Smollett was a “real victim” and that the brothers’ accounts are unreliable.
Before that night, Bola Osundairo said Smollett sent him a text message asking to meet up “on the low,” which he took to mean a secret meeting. Bola said it was then that Smollett first asked him “to fake beat him up” and asked if his brother could help. He said he was “confused” and “puzzled” by the request.
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Smollett said a camera in the area would record the attack, and that he wanted to use the recording for media purposes, Bola Osundairo testified.
Also Wednesday, Chicago police detective Kimberly Murray, who interviewed Smollett the morning of the attack, said he told her he had received a threatening phone call days earlier, but he refused to hand over his cellphone, which the detective said could help police piece together a timeline. She said Smollett also wouldn’t consent to giving medical records or a DNA swab.
Murray also said Smollett told her he had been assaulted by two men – one white and wearing a ski mask, the other he couldn’t see – as he returned home after buying a sandwich.
A lead investigator in the case testified Tuesday that police tracked down the Osundairo brothers, who are Black, using surveillance video and taxi and ride-share records. When taken into custody, the siblings detailed for police how Smollett orchestrated the fake attack.
A detective who interviewed Smollett after the brothers had been arrested said Smollett then started to change his story. Smollett told detective Robert Graves that the attacker had “pale skin,” when he previously said the attacker was white.
Graves also told Smollett that the brothers were in custody for the hate crime.
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“He said, ‘It can’t be them, they’re Black as sin,'” Graves recounted, saying he took that to mean the brothers have very dark skin.
Smollett later sent one of the brothers a text message, Graves said.
“I know 1000% you and your brother did nothing wrong and never would,” the text read.
Graves said he concluded Smollett had lied to him.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche has said the brothers attacked Smollett, who is Black and gay, “because of who he is” and has suggested that the brothers were homophobic.
The trial is expected to last about a week, and it is not clear if Smollett will take the stand in his own defense.
He has pleaded not guilty.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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