Jury selection and opening statements took place Monday in the highly-publicized trial of actor Jussie Smollett, who is accused of staging a hate crime against himself in a Chicago incident that captured the attention of the nation.
Prosecutors in their opening statements revealed what they argue was Smollett’s alleged motive in the case, and defense attorneys pushed back hard, saying that the actor was the victim of a real crime, and of a rush to judgment.
The day started with jury selection in the case, and after the panel was chosen, attorneys were given the opportunity to present their first arguments to that jury.
Prosecutors allege that the 39-year-old Smollett staged an attack in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood in Jan. 2019.
Within a three-week span, Smollett went from alleged victim to alleged suspect in the case. After the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dropped charges that alleged Smollett faked the attack, special prosecutor Dan Webb charged him with six counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police in the case.
Prosecutors allege that Smollett paid two extras from the hit TV show “Empire” a total of $3,500, brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, to attack him, allegedly doing so because his TV studio refused to take seriously a hateful letter that he had received shortly before the incident.
Webb also argued in court that Smollett refused to hand over his phone to authorities, refused to turn over his medical records, and refused a DNA sample, all of which were requested to aid in the investigation.
Smollett has argued that he was telling the truth about the incident, and today in opening statements, his lawyers argued that the Osundairo brothers did not like Smollett because he is gay, and that their story repeatedly changed under questioning from authorities.
The brothers’ testimony is critical to the prosecutors’ case against Smollett, and the defense says it intends to probe their credibility and to persuade the jury that they were not friends with Smollett, and that they were homophobic attackers.
As for the letter that the prosecution alleges started the situation, the FBI has never been able to determine its source.
All of those factors will be at play as the trial begins in earnest on Tuesday, with all parties scheduled to return to the courtroom at 9:15 a.m.