Trial set to start on charges Smollett faked racist attack
CHICAGO (AP) — A popular actor steps out onto the street and is brutally reminded that, despite his fame and wealth, places still exist where the color of his skin and sexual orientation put him in danger. That was the story that ricocheted around the world after Jussie Smollett, a Black and openly gay actor, reported to Chicago police that he was the victim of a hate crime. Nearly three years later, Smollett is about to stand trial on charges that he staged the whole thing. He was charged with felony disorderly conduct after law enforcement and prosecutors said he lied to police about what happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019, in downtown Chicago.
With Jussie Smollett preparing to stand trial over allegations he staged his own racial attack, questions are circulating about how strong his case is. © Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Courthouse after his court appearance on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The actor's trial over charges he lied about his own racial attack commended on Monday.
The actor had claimed that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on the streets of Chicago back in January 2019. Brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo later alleged that Smollett had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack as part of a bid to be paid more money on his show, Empire.
Key moments since Jussie Smollett reported Chicago attack
CHICAGO (AP) — Jussie Smollett goes to trial Monday on charges that he lied to Chicago police when the former “Empire” actor and R&B singer reported being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack nearly three years ago. Some key moments in the story: 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. Jan. 29, 2019— Jussie Smollett tells police he was attacked by two men in downtown Chicago at 2 a.m.
Smollett was subsequently arrested in February of that year, weeks before the charges were dismissed without public explanation toward the end of March.
The case was revived by February 2020, when Cook County special prosecutor Dan Webb announced that a grand jury had indicted him on six new counts of disorderly conduct and lying to the Chicago Police Department.
With Smollett facing up to three years in prison if convicted, criminal defense lawyer Julie Rendelman has told Newsweek that the counsel representing the star has a strong standing to pick apart exactly why the charges were dismissed in the first place.
Describing it as a "bungling by the prosecution," New York City-based Rendelman said: "When the special prosecutor got on the case, they were investigating not just Smollett, but also what had happened prior that caused them to drop the ball.
Jussie Smollett trial begins with jury selection in Chicago on Monday
The actor Jussie Smollett has denied for more than two years he lied about being the victim of a hate crime. Starting Monday, he and his lawyers will fight the accusations at trial.The long road in the Jussie Smollett case finally reaches trial Monday in Chicago, more than two years after police first alleged the actor lied about being the victim of a hate crime and wrongfully diverted weeks of investigative manpower.
"Their findings, whether true or not, indicate that there were ethical violations, and that there were questions as to how they handled the case. Is it because Jussie Smollett is a public figure and they were giving him a benefit that they wouldn't necessarily give anyone else?"
She added: "I'm not sure that the judge will allow it, because I'm not sure how relevant it is, but I would certainly as a defense attorney try to [point out that] even the prosecution wasn't sure how to handle this case."
Also at hand is that the Osundairos, so far, appear to be key witnesses for the prosecution. Having stated themselves that they were willing participants in the 2019 incident, Smollett's defense would be wise to target their credibility, said Rendelman.
"Obviously they haven't told the whole truth all along," said Rendelman. "Remember, if you're to accept what they're saying as true, they were participants in the crime as well. So in a sense, the prosecution's argument is, how do you get the big fish? You go with the little fish, which is these two individuals.
Jussie Smollett Trial: Brothers Allegedly Hired to Stage Attack to Appear in Court
Brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo—known as Abel and Ola—have alleged that Jussie Smollett orchestrated and paid them for his own attack at their hands.Former Empire star Smollett had alleged that in January 2019, he was attacked by two men who doused him with bleach and placed a noose around his neck as they yelled that he was in "MAGA country," in apparent reference to former President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again.
"But the defense can say they're equally, if not more, responsible, in terms of what occurred. So their credibility is at question, I think."
Another factor that might play to Smollett's advantage is time, said Rendelman, who explained: "It has been a while [since the alleged incident], so it's not as salacious as it was two years ago before COVID. So it's not like it's on the minds of everyone going into the case—the anger they may have felt, believing that he manipulated the system."
As to whether Smollett will see jail time, Rendelman, a criminal attorney in both federal and New York state courts, cites a number of factors that will likely see him not be sentenced to the maximum three years behind bars, should he be found guilty.
"I think what the judge will do, assuming [Smollett] is convicted, is he will review his background, for example, the fact that he has no criminal past and whether or not he was involved in community service.
"I think he will also potentially [look at] whether or not he's willing to pay restitution, because we certainly know that there was a lot of money that was spent investigating this case in a city that took the cops away from violent crimes to focus on this. I think those things will impact what the judge sentences him to.
Jussie Smollett Trial Begins After Special Prosecutor Revived Case Against Actor
Jussie Smollett is charged with six counts of disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to investigators in 2019 after telling police he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. His lawyer has entered not guilty pleas on his behalf. RELATED: Jussie Smollett Seen Wearing Rope Around His Neck on Night of Alleged Attack in Police Footage Smollett, an openly gay Black actor, was originally indicted in March 2019 with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report claiming that two men attacked him on Jan. 29, 2019.
"Can I see jail time in this? I think so. I think the other question is whether the judge views conviction in such a high-profile case as punishment enough."
Whatever the outcome, Rendelman believes that each side will be able say that their point was proven by the verdict.
She said of Smollett: "In his position, he's maintaining his innocence and saying, 'I'm a homosexual, I was targeted because of my race, and this is something that happens all the time in the community, therefore the idea of no one believing me is just another indication of racism at its best.'"
Those on the flip side of the legal fight, said Rendelman, may counter that Smollett is a man "who actually took advantage of the racial tensions to his benefit in some way, whether it is to get attention or whether it is to get a better acting gig, assuming that the allegations are true." © Provided by Newsweek Jussie Smollett, center, arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for the beginning of his trial on new disorderly conduct charges on November 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
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- Jussie Smollett Trial: Brothers Allegedly Hired to Stage Attack to Appear in Court
- Jussie Smollett's Trial Begins as Actor Faces Charges He Faked Racist Attack
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Don Lemon Faces 'Ethical Questions' Over Jussie Smollett's Tip-Off Testimony .
Don Lemon has come under fire, after Jussie Smollett testified the CNN anchor warned him that police didn't believe his account of his alleged racial attack.Former Empire star Smollett is currently awaiting the jury's verdict, after standing trial amid accusations he orchestrated his own alleged attack by two men in 2019 on the streets of Chicago, during which he stated that a noose was tied around his neck.