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The state rested its case at Jussie Smollett’s trial Thursday after key testimony from two brothers who said the former “Empire” actor plotted a racist and anti-gay attack on himself in downtown Chicago and paid them to carry it out.
After a three-day presentation of evidence, special prosecutor Dan Webb told the presiding judge Thursday evening that the prosecution was finished. The defense began its case immediately, calling Brandon Moore, Smollett’s music manager at the time.
Earlier in the day, Smollett’s lawyer worked to discredit the brothers’ accounts, suggesting they attacked Smollett because they didn’t like him, and tried to get him to pay them each $1 million not to testify that he staged the assault.
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Defense attorney Shay Allen suggested the brothers were motivated to accuse Smollett of staging the hoax because they disliked the performer — who is gay and Black — and then saw an opportunity to make money.
Here's the latest from the courtroom: (Refresh for updates)
--Tensions in the Jussie Smollett trial are hearing up this afternoon. The judge quickly denied a motion for a mistrial after the defense claimed they weren’t able to adequately cross examine one of the brothers who participated in the January 2019 incident.
-- Bola Osundairo is being cross-examined by defense attorneys. He is questioned about his early acting career, and how he came to work for Empireback on the stand. Now under cross examination.
-Osundairo spent more than four hours on the witness stand, discussing his and Smollett's friendship and that Smollett came to him in January 2019 and allegedly asked for a favor -- to “fake beat [Smollett] up” and requested that he use an anti-gay slur and racial slurs
-“I agreed to do it, because more importantly, I felt indebted to Jussie… I also believed he could help further my acting career,” Osundairo said.
-Osundairo said Smollett texted him on Jan. 25, 2019, saying, “Might need your help on the low.”
The pair then drove to the Osundairo family’s North Side home where Osundairo’s brother, Olabinjo Osundairo, joined them in the car.
Abimbola Osundairo said Smollett handed them a $100 bill for supplies and told the siblings that they should stage a scuffle, tie a noose around Smollett’s neck, pour gasoline on him and run away as the actor fought back.
Two days before the Jan. 29, 2019, incident, Abimbola Osundairo said the three rehearsed the fake attack, which Smollett said he wanted captured by a nearby surveillance camera “for [the] media,” Abimbola Osundairo testified.
Smollett gave the brothers a check for $3,500, which Abimbola Osundairo said he believed was payment for a food and exercise plan he gave the actor, as well as for their help with the staged attack.
-Olabinjo, Bola's brother, Osundairo is also expected to take the stand.
-The state’s fifth witness, Murray's partner, CPD Detective Robert Graves, was called to the stand.
Graves recounted the two interviews they had with Smollett, at the hospital and later in the unmarked police car as they drove around to do a walk-through of the incident.
During direct examination, special prosecutor Sean Wieber asked Graves about his re-interview of Smollett on February 14, while the Osundairo brothers were in custody at a separate location. Graves said he was called in on his day off to do the interview because supervisors thought it would help feel more comfortable.
Graves testified that there were some inconsistencies during Smollett’s reinterview, namely about the race of the attacker he saw.
Graves said he did not tell Smollett in that Feb. 14 re-interview that the brothers were in custody but that Smollett realized in the context of questioning that they had been arrested.
Graves said Smollett said that the attackers couldn’t have been the brothers because the brothers were “black as sin.” Graves testified that Smollett had said he’d cooperate and help find the individuals who attacked him, and that he would agree to signing a criminal complaint against the brothers for the attack, but to his knowledge never did.
Graves testified that Smollett never told him that he had met up with the brothers in the days before the attack, nor had he told Graves that he had driven around the area of the attack with the brothers in the days prior.
Graves also testified that Smollett had ended up providing redacted cell phone records, and that he later determined some of the calls were between Smollett and Abimbola Osundairo.
-- In cross-examination of Graves, lead defense attorney Nenye Uche hit hard at Graves’ testimony, asking how many victims he had ever encountered who were celebrities, touching on Smollett’s particularly strong desire for privacy because of his status. Graves said he didn’t know.
Uche also poked holes into Graves’ reports and testimony, showing that he did not make a record of Smollett’s comments as he testified, that he said the attackers “acted white,” but instead wrote that Smollett “now believes [the attacker] was white due to comments made.”
Uche also asked Graves whether Smollett was the detective on his own investigation, because Graves did not ask specifically whether he had spoken to Bola in the hour before the attack, nor did he ask whether Smollett had been with the brothers in the days before. Uche made the point that because they’re friends, that’s nothing spectacular.
In re-direct, Graves confirmed that he had worked about 45 hours straight in the two-plus days he had worked on the case, in an apparent effort to show why there might have been slips in his reports.
At the end of direct examination, Wieber asked Graves how many victims in his 30 years working in law enforcement refused to provide a cell phone and medical records upon request. He said “one,” and stood up to point to Smollett in the court room.
-- One of the Osundairo brothers has arrived at the Cook county Courthouse with his attorney. Abimbola Osundairo, one of two brothers who said they helped Smollett stage the hoax, takes the stand.
Osundairo said Smollett trusted him so much, the actor asked him to buy drugs for him, including marijuana and “mollies.”
He said he never expected payment. Smollett was good to him, that they would often hang out together, he testified. “I would call him my brother,” he said.
He said because there wasn’t much work as an extra or a stand in, the Osundairo brothers formed a group called “Team Able” with friends. They developed diet plans and fitness plans for people. They also did fitness routines and stunts on social media.
Bola Osundairo said he did develop a plan for Smollett.
-After Bola Osundairo was done being questioned by the prosecution, the judge sent the jury home for the day following dinner, saying that cross-examination by the defense will start out the day on Thursday at 9:15 a.m.
-- Trial began promptly with special prosecutor Sam Mendenhall calling CPD detective Kimberly Murray as the state’s fourth witness.
Murray testified that she had been assigned to the case in the early hours after the attack occurred, and that she and her partner, Detective Robert Graves, had gone to the staircase where the attack occurred prior to meeting Smollett at Northwestern Hospital. She testified she met with him for about 50 minutes between doctors treating him that morning.
Murray recounted what Smollett said the attackers said to him at the time of the attack, which consisted of racist slurs, and that he was struck two times in the face, knocked to the ground, kicked in the back and rib area. She said he had said that he felt a tugging around his neck, and the attack stopped suddenly and the attackers fled. He found on his way up the stairs, she said he told him, that a rope was placed around his neck fashioned into a noose.
She also testified that Smollett had told her about the hate mail and a phone call he received a few days earlier from a blocked number, someone making similar hateful comments.
-- Heather Widell for the defense began her cross-examination of Murray. Questioning touched on the fact that despite Smollett’s attempt at privacy surrounding the incident, employees at Northwestern Hospital were suspended for trying to look up his medical records and that the Chicago Police Department had leaked information on the case. Objections were sustained before she could finish her questions. The witness was excused shortly after.
--Defense attorneys cross examined Theis, suggesting the investigation ignored some facts and some witnesses to better suit their narrative. They are also trying to discredit the Osandairo brothers who are expected to testify later this week.
--After lunch, Judge Linn reminds the attorneys of an agreement they made not to speak to the media until the trial is over and a verdict is reached. The reminder made necessary by an activist who came to the lobby to speak to reporters on Smollett”s behalf. She was accompanied by a member of his PR team. “Nobody is going to infect this trial,” Judge Linn said.
--Det. Theis testified that video, cell phone, GPS and other evidence all pointed to a conspiracy between Jussie Smollett and the Osandairo brothers to fake a hate crime in Streeterville on January 29. Defense is set to cross-examine Det. Theis next.
-- After 24 to 26 investigators spent more than 3,000 man hours looking into the case, Det. Michael Theis testified: “at the end of the investigation, we determined that the alleged hate crime was a staged event and it never happened.”
-- First witness by called prosecution in Smollett trial is Det. Michael Theis, the lead investigator on the Smollett case. When asked if there was a “rush to judgement,” Theis replied “absolutely not.”
Chicago Sun-Times Wire, and NBC 5's Charlie Wojciechowski contributed to this report.