Former Empire star Jussie Smollett will soon stand trial over claims that he lied about being the victim of a homophobic attack in Chicago in 2019.
Smollett has repeatedly insisted that he is innocent, after telling authorities that he was attacked in Chicago by two men yelling racist and homophobic slurs in the early morning of January 29, 2019.
Smollett said the men poured a white substance on him, put a noose around his neck and shouted, “This is MAGA country,” referring to then-President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
At the time, celebrities, politicians and advocacy groups rallied behind Smollett, with the alleged attack becoming a symbol of the discrimination and violence emboldened by Trump’s presidency.
However, a month after Smollett reported the attack, then-Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson accused Smollett of paying his attackers $3,500 to stage the attack in order to take “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
Johnson said that the brothers confessed to the plot and that the scratching and bruising on the actor’s face “were most likely self-inflicted.”
Citing text messages and hours of surveillance footage, authorities said phone records suggested that Smollett had talked to the brothers both an hour before the attack and an hour after it.
In February 2019, Smollett was suspended by the producers of Empire, who called the allegations against him “very disturbing.”
In March 2019, Smollett was indicted by a Chicago grand jury on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct. However, later that month the Cook County’s State’s Attorney’s Office controversially dropped the charges, offering little explanation why, except that the actor had no prior felonies, was not a danger to the community, and had agreed to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago.
City officials condemned the decision, with former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calling the case a “whitewash of justice” that sent a “clear message that if you’re in a position of influence and power, you’ll get treated one way. Other people will be treated another way.”
In August 2019, a special prosecutor, Dan Webb, was appointed to investigate the handling of Smollett’s case. In February 2020, a grand jury indicted Smollett for making false reports after Webb said his office “completed all of its investigative steps regarding Jussie Smollett, and has made the decision to further prosecute [him].”
The indictment charged Smollett with making four separate false reports to Chicago police officers. His attorney, Tina Glandian, said the new attempt to prosecute the actor was “not supported by the evidence” and “clearly all about politics, not justice.”
Glandian pleaded not guilty on her client’s behalf nearly two weeks later.
Now that the trial has officially started, Smollett faces up to three years in prison if convicted. However, experts told USA Today that if Smollett is convicted, it is likely that he would be put on probation and possibly ordered to perform community service.
The trial, which was delayed in part due to the pandemic, will feature the brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, as key witnesses.
According to their lawyer, Gloria Rodriguez, they will describe how Smollett drove them to the spot where the incident would unfold for a “dress rehearsal.”
“He was telling them ‘Here’s a camera, there’s a camera and here’s where you are going to run away,’” Rodriguez said.
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