Day one of Jussie Smollett’s trial has officially begun in Chicago with jury selection kicking off Monday.
The former “Empire” actor continues to argue he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago late at night in January of 2019. Meanwhile, siblings Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who worked with him on the TV show, say he paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers.
Smollett arrived at the court in a navy blue suit and wool coat to match with a white dress shirt and gray striped tie underneath. He wore a black face mask as he arrived at the building with his arms linked to his family members who were there to support him as he argues his innocence. He looked serious and stoic as he entered the courtroom with his supporters creating a wall around him. His family members accompanied him into the courtroom where they emotionally said goodbye and left him at the defense table to watch the proceedings elsewhere in the building.
Seating within the courtroom is limited to accommodate the jury selection pool and requirements on social distancing due to COVID-19.
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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.
However, the actor and director previously pleaded not guilty on renewed charges stemming from the incident, and instead maintains his original story, arguing that the $3,500 check was simply for the duo being his personal trainer.
The brothers are expected to testify at trial and repeat what they told police in the past, that Smollett paid them to carry out the attack in order to raise his public profile. Meanwhile, it has not been determined if Smollett will take the stand in his own defense.
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Once they are selected, jurors will likely see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty supply shop hours earlier.
Smollett’s attorneys, led by Nenye Uche, has not spelled out how they will confront that evidence at trial.
Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from a woman who lived in the area who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night.
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She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”
Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.
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Given there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements, that they participated in the attack, it is not likely that Smollett’s attorneys will try to prove they did not take part. That could perhaps lead the defense to contend that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack at the hands of the brothers, perhaps with the help of others, who now are only implicating the actor so prosecutors won’t charge them, too.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.