Smollett case day 2: Detective testifies he originally thought this was a real hate crime

Jury selection and opening statements in the trial of Jussie Smollett took place Monday. Today is day 2 of the trial and once again, Smollett entered the courthouse with most of his family surrounding him. His brother JoJo Smollett made a brief statement saying it had been “incredibly painful” to see his brother accused of something he didn’t do.

Once inside the courtroom, prosecutors called Detective Michael Theis to the stand. Theis was the lead detective in the case and challenged the idea that there was a rush-to-judgment in the case. He said he initially believed Smollett was the victim of a “horrible” hate crime. But after detectives put in thousands of hours tracking the movements of the attackers and arresting them, he gradually realized it was something else:

Theis said roughly two dozen detectives clocked some 3,000 hours on what they thought was a “horrible hate crime” in January 2019. He said they were excited when they were able to track the movements of two suspected attackers using surveillance video and cellphone and rideshare records.

“The crime was a hate crime, a horrible hate crime,” Theis said, noting Smollett — who is Black and gay — reported that his attackers put a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him…

After police arrested Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo — brothers who also worked on the “Empire” set — as they returned to Chicago from Nigeria, the men said Smollett wanted to stage the attack because he was unhappy about how the TV studio handled hate mail the actor had received, Theis said. He said investigators checked out the brothers’ account, including that the actor picked them up days before the attack and drove them around the area of downtown where he lived and talked about what would happen, and corroborated their version of events using GPS, cellphone records and video evidence. Police found no instance where they concluded the men were lying, he added…

“At the end of the investigation, we determined that the alleged hate crime was actually a staged event,” Theis said, and the Osundairo brothers were released.

Yesterday I pointed out that the defense’s theory of the case seemed to have changed, though I wasn’t sure if it was a new story or just the first time I was hearing it. Well it turns out it was the latter. Looking at it again today I can see that his defense attorney, Tina Glandian, went on the Today show in March 2019 and basically admitted the brothers were the attackers. At the time she was asked what their possible motive might be for a racist and homophobic attack on Smollett and she replied, “I don’t want to go on record right now and give my own theory of the case.”

But even that admission still left a big problem for the defense because Smollett had definitely told police his primary attacker was white:

Smollett told officers that the primary attacker “was wearing a ski mask that covered his entire face, with the exception of the area around his eyes, by which (Smollett) could tell the attacker was white-skinned,” according to the city’s lawsuit. The brothers are black.

Tina Glandian had an explanation for that as well back in 2019. She claimed they might have been wearing white makeup under their masks and even pointed out there was a video of one of the brothers doing a Joker monologue in white makeup on YouTube. As you’ll see, she also had an explanation for why Smollett, who she admits had talked to one of the brothers many times including that day, didn’t recognize his voice.

So it appears the defense was locked into this very awkward theory of the crime more than two years ago, i.e. two black brothers put on whiteface and carried out a racist and homophobic attack on Smollett. My guess is that they were stuck with this story because police assembled such a detailed timeline showing the brothers had left home and traveled to Smollett’s location that night and then traveled back home after the attack that it had to be the Osundairo brothers who carried out the attack. So the only thing the defense could claim was that they carried it out for real. As for Smollett saying they were white, well not only was the attack done in earnest it was very cleverly staged as well. At least that’s what I think we’re going to hear from the defense sometime later this week.

It’s hard to believe this story is going to convince a jury but I guess they only have to convince one person it could be true. Here’s a local news report on today’s testimony from Detective Theis: