January 23, 2022

Jussie Smollett lawyer suggests star witness sought money, fame

CHICAGO —
Jussie Smollett’s legal team suggested Thursday that a star state witness who testified that the former “Empire” actor recruited him and his brother to stage a fake attack isn’t credible and that he was trying to further his career and make money off his relationship with the actor.

Defence attorney Shay Allen asked Abimbola Osundairo if he sold him drugs and about guns found in Osundairo’s home when police searched it. Osundairo said he got drugs for Smollett when the actor asked him to but added “I’m not a drug dealer, I don’t sell.”

Allen also questioned the motivation behind Osundairo’s interactions with Smollett, suggesting they were dating, that Smollett wanted Osundairo to get him supplements that are illegal in the U.S., and that the aspiring actor — who worked as a stand-in on “Empire” — wanted a high-paid job as Smollett’s security.

Allen also suggested Smollett wasn’t involved in plotting the alleged attack, and that the brothers acted on their own.

Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack — one count for each time he gave a report — to three different officers. The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

Smollett’s legal team needs to cast doubt on Osundairo’s damaging testimony from Wednesday, but it isn’t an easy task. Osundairo stuck with his story Thursday, while denying a sexual relationship with Smollett and that he asked the actor to hire him. And much of what Osundairo told jurors about the Jan. 29, 2019, event appears to be corroborated by video and other evidence.

Osundairo testified that Smollett instructed him and his brother on how to carry out the staged attack. Smollett also planned a “dry run” and gave him a US$100 bill to buy supplies, Osundairo said.

Osundairo said Smollett instructed him to punch the actor but “not too hard.” Once he was on the ground, Osundairo said Smollett said he should give him “a bruise” and “give him a noogie” — or rub his knuckles hard on Smollett’s head.

Osundairo said he and his brother agreed because he felt indebted to Smollett for helping him with his acting career.

Osundairo testified that he and his brother had difficulty identifying a good spot for the staged attack, walking around in the early morning of that Jan. 29 in weather that Osundairo described as “colder than penguin feet.”

According to Osundario, when the brothers spotted Smollett at around 2 a.m., Osundairo — as instructed earlier by Smollett — shouted a homophobic slur and his brother yelled, “this is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”

After punching Smollett in the face and throwing the actor to the ground, they put a noose around his neck and threw bleach on him, then ran away, Osundairo told jurors.

The next morning, as news broke of a hate crime against Smollett, Osundairo said he texted a note of condolence to Smollett, also as instructed. It read: “Bruh, say it ain’t true. I’m praying for speedy recovery.”

Osundairo testified that Smollett gave him a cheque for $3,500 and wrote on it that it was for a nutrition and workout program. But Osundairo said the money was both for the program and for helping to stage the attack.

A defence attorney told jurors during openings that Smollett was a “real victim” and that the brothers’ accounts are unreliable.

Before that night, Osundairo said Smollett sent him a text message asking to meet up “on the low,” which he took to mean a secret meeting. Osundairo said it was then that Smollett first asked him “to fake beat him up” and asked if his brother could help. Osundairo said he was “confused” and “puzzled” by the request.

Smollett said a camera in the area would record the attack, and that he wanted to use the recording for media purposes, Osundairo testified.

Also Wednesday, Chicago police detective Kimberly Murray, who interviewed Smollett the morning of the attack, said he told her he had received a threatening phone call days earlier, but he refused to hand over his cellphone, which the detective said could help police piece together a timeline. She said Smollett also wouldn’t consent to giving medical records or a DNA swab.

Murray also said Smollett told her he had been assaulted by two men — one white and wearing a ski mask, the other he couldn’t see — as he returned home after buying a sandwich.

A lead investigator in the case testified Tuesday that police tracked down the Osundairo brothers, who are Black, using surveillance video and taxi and ride-share records. When taken into custody, the siblings detailed for police how Smollett orchestrated the fake attack.

A detective who interviewed Smollett after the brothers had been arrested said Smollett then started to change his story. Smollett told detective Robert Graves that the attacker had “pale skin,” when he previously said the attacker was white.

Graves also told Smollett that the brothers were in custody for the hate crime.

“He said, ‘It can’t be them, they’re Black as sin,”‘ Graves recounted, saying he took that to mean the brothers have very dark skin.

Smollett later sent one of the brothers a text message, Graves said.

“I know 1000% you and your brother did nothing wrong and never would,” the text read.

Graves said he concluded Smollett had lied to him.

Defence attorney Nenye Uche has said the brothers attacked Smollett, who is Black and gay, “because of who he is” and has suggested that the brothers were homophobic.

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  Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report 

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