Jussie Smollett, frustrated by what he saw as a low-key reaction to a death threat he received in the mail, enlisted a friend in 2019 to stage a mock attack that would attract public attention, said the friend Wednesday during the actor’s trial.
Abimbola Osundairo, the younger of the two brothers who said he participated in what they describe as a hoax, said the bizarre request came after Mr Smollett showed him a picture of a threatening letter he ‘he had received. It featured a red staff hanging from a noose, a gun pointed at the character, and the acronym MAGA on it.
Mr Smollett then arranged a meeting with him, Mr Osundairo said, after sending him a text message in which Mr Smollett said he needed help ‘on the low’. During the meeting, they explained that the television studio behind “Empire”, the show they both worked on, did not take the letter seriously, Mr Osundairo told the court.
“He said he wanted me to beat him up,” Mr. Osundairo said. “I looked puzzled, then he explained that he wanted me to pretend to beat him.”
Mr Osundairo testified on the third day of Mr Smollett’s trial on charges that he filed a false police report about the attack, a case which largely rests on Mr. Osundairo and his brother, Olabinjo Osundairo, who say Mr. Smollett designed the attack.
Mr Smollett has denied organizing the January 29 attack and his lawyers suggested the brothers fabricated the account to avoid prosecution.
“He wanted me to fight and throw him to the ground and bruise him while my brother Ola poured bleach on him and put a rope around him and then we would run away,” said Abimbola Osundairo.
Mr Osundairo, 28, said his friendship with the actor started in 2017 and has grown into a place Mr Osundairo would call Mr Smollett his ‘big brother’. Mr Osundairo said Mr Smollett had helped him get a job as a replacement for more prominent actors on “Empire”, a move which Mr Osundairo said had left him feeling “indebted” to him. Mr. Smollett. He said he ended up replacing the love interest of Mr. Smollett’s character on the show.
It is not clear whether prosecutors will also seek testimony from Mr Osundairo’s older brother Olabinjo, 30, who has also appeared on “Empire” and, although he is not as close to Mr Smollett, told investigators he was brought in to help with the attack. Olabinjo Osundairo is on a list of potential witnesses.
The brothers told police that the day before the attack, Mr. Smollett drove them to the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago where he lived, showing them where he wanted the attack to happen. The brothers say Mr Smollett gave them a $ 100 bill to purchase supplies for the attack, including ski masks, a rope and a red hat meant to indicate the attackers were supporters of the former president Donald J. Trump.
Special prosecutor in charge of the case, Daniel K. Webb, said earlier in the trial that on January 29 the brothers waited for Mr. Smollett near the proposed location – in sub-zero temperatures – and when the actor arrived, they lightly beat him. put the rope around his neck and poured bleach on him from a bottle of hot sauce. Abimbola Osundairo said as a car approached, the two brothers fled and hailed a taxi to take them home.
Mr Osundairo said Mr Smollett asked him to send a ‘condolence text’ the next morning after local media reported the events.
“Bruh says that’s not true,” Mr. Osundairo wrote to the actor. “I pray for a speedy recovery.”
The defense, which had yet to begin its questioning of Mr Osundairo on Wednesday, in its opening statement and cross-examination sought to undermine the brothers’ accounts. Mr Smollett’s lead attorney, Nenye Uche, called the brothers “avowed aggressors” and said the two men “didn’t like” Mr Smollett.
Mr Uche said a check for $ 3,500 that Mr Smollett wrote to Abimbola Osundairo was for the fitness aid for Mr Smollett’s clip – not a payment for helping to attack, as prosecutors claim. (Mr. Osundairo testified that at the time of the reported attack he had helped Mr. Smollett with diet and fitness plans to help him prepare for a music video, but that he had the ‘intention to do the job for free because they were friends.)
The defense also said Mr Smollett’s text message asking for help “at the bottom” referred to getting the herbal steroids from Nigeria, where the brothers planned to travel.
On Tuesday, Mr Uche suggested during his questioning of a detective, Michael Theis, who investigated Mr Smollett’s hate crime report, that the police failed to properly investigate the charges that Olabinjo Osundairo had a history of homophobic statements.
Understanding the Jussie Smollett trial
Prosecutors on Wednesday sought to blunt that suggested motivation. Abimbola Osundairo was asked if Mr. Smollett’s being gay had affected their friendship, and he said no. Mr Osundairo said at one point that he visited a gay bathhouse with Mr Smollett in Chicago.
The defense also focused on the guns and drugs found at the brothers’ home after their arrest in February 2019. But Detective Theis said Abimbola Osundairo had a valid license to own the guns, as well as ‘proof of ownership. He said police found a “very small amount” of cocaine in a bag inside the lining of a safe.
(Olabinjo Osundairo was convicted of aggravated assault and battery several years ago and is not allowed to own a firearm.)
Two other Chicago detectives testified Wednesday. One of them, Kimberly Murray, said she interviewed Mr Smollett at the hospital hours after the attack and told her he was heading into the lobby of her apartment in speaking on the phone with his agent when he heard one of his attackers shouting racist and homophobic insults at him.
She testified that Mr. Smollett told her that he had been punched in the left side of the face and that he had been kicked in the back and ribs; he said he felt a tug around his neck before the attackers fled. The actor told him that when he left the stage he noticed a rope “tied like a noose” around his neck and that when he got back to his apartment he noticed that his sweatshirt smelled of l ‘bleach.
Detective Murray told court that during the hospital interview Mr Smollett described one of his attackers as a white man wearing a ski mask. (He said he could tell the man was white from the exposed skin around his eyes and the bridge of his nose).
A second detective, Robert Graves, said on Wednesday that Mr Smollett was questioned weeks after the attack and described one of his attackers as ‘pale skinned’, not white, as he had said. previously.
“I confronted him and reminded him that I was in the hospital and in the drive-thru where he described the assailant as a white man and not so pale,” Detective Graves said, adding that Mr Smollett replied that the attacker had “acted like he was white”.
Detectives testified that Mr. Smollett refused to provide investigators with his cell phone, medical records and a saliva sample. Detective Graves said police wanted to access the phone to help set a schedule and to investigate a threatening anonymous call Mr Smollett said he received two days earlier, but Mr Smollett denied them that access .
During the defense cross-examination of Detective Graves, Mr Smollett’s attorney, Mr Uche, said that because Mr Smollett was a celebrity, he did not want to share his private information.