It’s been nearly three years since actor Jussie Smollett claimed that “a couple of white men” (presumably Trump supporters) attacked him near his home in Chicago and hung a makeshift noose around his neck in some sort of hate crime. That story seemed to quickly fall apart and he was named a suspect in his own attack roughly a month later. How this case has dragged on for this long without going before a jury is a convoluted tale that involves everyone from the Chicago PD to State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to Michelle Obama. But back in October, we learned that the long wait was finally over and Smollett’s trial was scheduled for this date. Jury selection is scheduled to begin today and is expected to last a week. Smollett is facing six charges including one relatively minor felony. But most of the attention isn’t focused on Smollett himself. The real center of attention is the pair of Nigerian brothers who allegedly conspired with the actor to pull off the hoaxed hate crime. (Associated Press)
Two brothers stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors when the trial of Jussie Smollett begins this week.
The former “Empire” actor contends he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago on a frigid 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.
Smollett is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been charged with felony disorderly conduct. A class 4 felony, the crime carries a sentence of up to three years in prison but experts have said it is more likely that if Smollett is convicted he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.
It now appears to be a certainty that Abel and Ola Osundairo will testify at the trial. That was never a sure thing over the first couple of years since this whole mess began. Back in June of last year, the brothers were saying that they would “no longer willingly testify” and they wanted their property returned to them from police custody. But they were given immunity from prosecution in the alleged hoax in exchange for that testimony, to the prosecution probably had enough leverage to get them on the stand.
So does this mean that a conviction for Smollett is pretty much a slam dunk? That’s far from a certainty as far as I can tell. Everything we’ve been told about this case makes it look like the entire hoax was planned by and executed with the full participation of Smollett. There is extensive video of the brothers covering the night of the supposed attack, including their purchase of the costumes they were to wear. They claim that Smollett paid them $3,500 to take part in the plan and they were even able to produce a check from him in that amount. So their testimony to that effect really should seal the deal.
But Smollett can afford some pretty good legal representation and his team clearly thinks they have a strategy that could see him walk free. There is still a potential witness out there who claimed that she saw “a white man with reddish-brown hair” hanging around in the area carrying what appeared to be a rope. That could muddy the waters for the prosecution. Also, Smollett claims that the $3,500 check was for personal training services from one of the brothers. (He had worked as a trainer previously.)
But will that be enough to get Smollett off entirely? There’s no way that the defense can argue that the brothers weren’t there that night and involved. Also, the jury would have to believe that the Osundairo brothers (who had a long relationship with the defendant) actually had planned a racially motivated attack on Smollett – despite being Black themselves – and then made up the story about Smollett planning it after they were discovered.
It sounds nonsensical in the extreme, but trials have produced unexpected results before. And Smollett remains a popular figure in Chicago, particularly among liberals. If the defense can land anyone sympathetic to Smollett’s cause on the jury, it may not prove possible to bring back a conviction. It’s definitely going to be entertaining to follow the (hopefully) final stage of this saga, though.